Of diplomacy and baseball…

August 20, 2010

Timing is everything in diplomacy and baseball.

After months of prickly talks aimed at coaxing Israelis and Palestinians into direct peace talks, U.S. envoy George Mitchell finally had news to share.
But when the U.S. mediator par excellence took the stage for questions Friday at the State Department, reporters tossed him one out of left field.

“As tempted as I am to ask you about Roger Clemens…,” his first questioner began, to chortles from reporters and State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley.

Mitchell, of course, between peacemaking stints in Northern Ireland and the Middle East, took a stab back in 2007 at resolving the conflict between Congress and Major League Baseball over the use of performance-enhancing drugs.

Clemens, one of the best pitchers in baseball history, was named in Mitchell’s report as having taken drugs, but he denied it in testimony before Congress.

The seven-time Cy Young Award winner was indicted by a federal grand jury Thursday on charges of perjury, making false statements and obstruction of Congress. He faces a $1.5 million fine and up to 30 years in prison.

So it was tantalizing to wonder what the former Maine judge and senator might have to say about Clemens.

“I predicted that, I predicted that,” Crowley laughed.

In the end, war and peace trumped baseball, and Mitchell kept his thoughts on Clemens to himself.

Instead he discussed the UBASEBALL/.S. decision to invite Israelis and Palestinians to begin direct talks on final status issues Sept. 2 in Washington.

That means they’ll be discussing borders, sovereignty over Jerusalem and the fate of Palestinian refugees, the most daunting issues of all.

Mitchell said the United States is confident an agreement can be concluded in a year.

How so, when it has taken the parties at least that time to agree to even sit down face-to-face?

Mitchell likened it to having his house painted.

“It took the painters seemingly forever to prime the building and the walls. I  kept asking myself, When are they going to start painting? Paying by the hour and you want some progress,” he said.

“And after this seemingly endless priming, they painted it very quickly.”

So all we need for Middle East peace is a quick coat of paint? It’s probably best not to push the analogy that far.

“We don’t expect all of those differences to disappear when talks begin,” Mitchell said.

“But we do believe that peace in the Middle East … is very much in the interest of Israelis and Palestinians,” he added.

“It’s in the national security interest of the United States. And therefore we are going to continue to pursue that objective with patience, perseverance and determination.”

For more Reuters political news, click here.

Photo credit: Reuters/Kevin Lamarque (Mitchell and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announcing decision to invite Israeli and Palestinian leaders to direct peace talks);  Reuters/Rebecca Cook (Clemens pitching in a 2007 baseball game)

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