Today's Story Line:

One corner of the world may be a bit safer today and here's why: In its role as global cop, America keeps close watch on world hot spots. One of those is the Taiwan Strait, where Chinese and US forces almost came to blows in 1996. Beijing has renewed its efforts to reclaim Taiwan, and vows to do so by force if the island officially declares independence (even though it is independent in fact). Now, the Monitor has learned, the leading Taiwanese opposition party that once talked of independence is backing off.

A new election in Israel will give Israelis a chance to again alter the course of the peace process. The last election nearly killed off the Oslo peace accords.

Even though Arab nations are split over both Iraq and the Israel-Palestinian issue, the US must do some damage control on Arab opinion after bombing Iraq (this page). The 70-hour war may have been purposely short in order to avoid a buildup of Arab protests in the region.

The IRA may never totally give up its bombs, but even a token surrender of its weapons may have a political impact in Northern Ireland. That's why the issue is important to the peacemakers.

- Clayton Jones

World Editor

REPORTERS ON THE JOB

* ONE CHINA, THREE CURRENCIES: To fly to Taiwan from Beijing could take three hours if direct flights were allowed. Instead, to report today's page 1 story, Beijing bureau chief Kevin Platt had to stay over in Hong Kong, making the trip more than 12 hours. He also had to use three currencies: the mainland's renminbi (people's money), Hong Kong dollars, and "new" Taiwan dollars. In all three places, American dollars were most welcome.

While in Taiwan to cover the elections on Dec. 5, Kevin was surprised to find a festive and exuberant campaign. Thousands of people, cherishing their young democracy, waved banners and blew horns. The scene reminded him of Tiananmen Square in 1989, when the pro-democracy protest was also spirited.

PRESS CLIPS

* AN ARCHVILLAIN HOTLINE? Robert Fisk, a longtime Arab-world correspondent now writing for the London-based Independent, claimed in Sunday's newspaper to have heard a report that Saddam Hussein and Saudi "terrorist" Osama bin Laden had recently talked by telephone. "Now it happens that I discussed Saddam with Mr. bin Laden when I last met him on the top of a mountain in Afghanistan. And while he expressed support for ordinary Iraqis, bin Laden had nothing but contempt and hatred for Saddam. Indeed, I suspect bin Laden would be as revolted at the idea of talking to Saddam as he would by the idea of talking to Bill Clinton."

Let us hear from you.

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