IN diplomacy you cannot pick and choose those you want to talk with. The art is to keep contact open at all times, even with people or regimes that you may thoroughly dislike. You never know when you may need their help or when things may turn round so abruptly that someone you have long regarded as an adversary has been transformed into a friend
In this space yesterday I said that the decision of David Miliband, Britain's Foreign Secretary, to take paternity leave at the precise moment that King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and his senior ministers are on a State Visit to Britain cast serious doubts on his fitness for office. The various explanations that have been given for his action since I took that viewpoint leave me in no doubt at all that he is unfit for the office he holds and that Gordon Brown should ask for his resignation.
It is worth remembering that earlier this year Mr Miliband was thought to be a serious contender to succeed Tony Blair. Would we then have had a prime minister likely to be absent from Questions in the Commons or an EU Summit because of paternity leave? It is being said that the Milibands were deeply hurt by the media interest in their adoption of a first son, Isaac, in 2004 and did not want a repeat with their second, Jacob.
Perhaps, but why were these particular forty-eight hours so important?