Perhaps it's the understandable anxiety over the anthrax scare, whose effects are being felt very close to home, but suddenly some strange things are going on in President Bush's administration. The admission during a press conference by a high-ranking, high-tech naval officer, that he had been surprised by the resoluteness of the Taliban fighters under aerial bombardment, was extraordinary and unnerving. Had this officer read nothing about the history of Afghanistan over the past two centuries? Even a superficial knowledge of its peoples' earlier encounters with outsiders would have made him aware that the Afghanistanis know how to fight and survive against the odds. We were initially told that the bombing of the past three weeks was intended to destroy the Taliban's air defence capabilities; if we are now learning that it was also intended to break the Taliban's spirit than we shall be entitled to ask some very hard questions about the quality of the strategic thinking in Washington. Matters were not improved by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's subsequent admission that Osama bin Laden could already have flown the coop and may never be caught.

Meanwhile, in another part of Washington, Israel's foreign minister Shimon Peres had been meeting with Vice President Dick Cheney and the aforementioned Donald Rumsfeld to talk about the deteriorating situation between Israel and the Palestinians. Commenting to the media afterwards Mr Peres said, “I didn't hear a word of criticism...I heard a good deal of understanding.” Earlier, during Mr Peres's meeting with Condoleeza Rice, President Bush's national security advisor, the President himself dropped by to shake hands. Yassir Arafat still awaits his first meeting with Mr Bush. What goes on?

Ray Fleming

Zimbabwe latest

Africa is not at the top of the international agenda just now - for which President Mugabe of Zimbabwe must be duly grateful.
With the spotlight off him he may think he can continue his somewhat unconventional preparations to win another six-year term of office at the forthcoming election, and thus add to the 21 years he has already been in power.

However, Mugabe is due to receive two delegations in the next few days which want to talk to him about the way in which the elections will be held and other related issues. One is a Commonwealth team which will be enquiring about the progress made in ending violence against white farmers and in maintaining the rule of law since his foreign minister gave undertakings on these matters at a Commonwealth meeting in Nigeria in early September.

They are likely to find that little has been done. The second team will consist of foreign ministers from the European Union who will be asking for assurances on the conduct of the election and on the observance of human rights in general; their right to interest themselves in these questions stems from the Cotonu treaty which governs aid, trade and political relations between EU members and their former colonies.

There is already talk in Brussels of early selective EU sanctions against Zimbabwe if the delegation is not satisfied with the answers it gets.