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New Zealand vote may patch U.S. rift

Remember the flap four years ago when the United States cut off defense cooperation with New Zealand because the government closed its ports to American warships carrying nuclear weapons? Come to think of it, maybe you don't remember it.

Even though the dispute brought about the collapse of the ANZUS Treaty alliance, it didn't exactly open the Pacific region to Soviet domination or change the balance of power _ much less the course of history.

You can always count on doomsayers and crepe hangers to come up with dire predictions whenever things go a little bit wrong, and the the U.S.-New Zealand tiff was no exception. But as it turned out, about the only notable thing the flap accomplished was to give David Lange, the prime minister of New Zealand at the time, a good Washington-bashing issue to whip up support for his Labor Party and keep the opposition National Party at bay.

As we all know, four years can make a lot of difference. This past weekend, the National Party led by Prime Minister-elect Jim Bolger knocked Labor out of power in parliamentary elections, and one of its first policy pronouncements was a desire to patch things up with Washington.

That won't be easy because Lange's anti-nuclear policies were so popular with the New Zealand electorate that Bolger and his party adopted them as their own earlier this year. Even so, the dispute four years ago was almost as much about clashing personalities as it was over whether this or that American warship was or was not carrying nuclear weapons.

Bolger is considered a much more committed friend of the United States than Lange, and certainly a lot less confrontational and ready to bash Washington for domestic political gain. Maybe he and U.S. Secretary of State James Baker can succeed where Lange and George Shultz failed and get the ANZUS alliance back in business.

ANZUS, by the way, stands for Australia, New Zealand and the United States and is the name of the treaty the three countries signed in 1951 to maintain security in the western Pacific region.

Iraqi President Saddam Hussein has himself a real dilemma in deciding how to deal with the international sanctions against his country. The flip-flop this past weekend over gasoline rationing is just the latest example of the problem.

One the one hand, it's in Hussein's interest to let the world know that the sanctions imposed by the United Nations are doing their job. That's because as long as the American people and the Bush administration think the sanctions are working, there will almost certainly be no military strike on Iraqi targets.

On the other hand, Hussein needs to be able to present a brave face to his own people as well as the world. He needs to appear in control of the mess he created by invading Kuwait Aug. 2, not its victim. That's why gasoline rationing introduced only a week ago was canceled and the petroleum minister, Issam Chalabi, fired.

Somebody made a serious miscalculation on the gasoline rationing decision. The Iraqi public didn't like it and had to wonder if the government knew what it was doing. Ultimately, Saddam Hussein himself was responsible for the move, but you couldn't really expect him to take the fall, could you?

Chalabi had to go so Hussein could save the face he's going to need to keep the Iraqi population together when the tough times really arrive in the coming months. This thing is far from over.

I wrote a week ago about the African National Congress finally getting around to approving peace talks between its deputy president, Nelson Mandela, and South Africa's other major black leader, Mangosuthu Buthelezi.

This was good news at the time because followers of the two men were killing each other on a daily basis in South Africa's Natal province and the black townships surrounding the country's biggest city, Johannesburg.

Well, the two men have yet to hold that meeting, and the killing among their followers hasn't stopped. In fact, this past weekend was one of the bloodiest in a long time with 26 people reported killed in factional fighting between black groups. The latest violence came only hours after thousands of Buthelezi's supporters, members of the Inkatha political movement, paraded through Johannesburg with spears, clubs and shields.

The situation between the two sides is getting tense again after a period of relative calm. Mandela and Buthelezi would do well to get on with their scheduled meeting and make a very public and joint call for peace. Otherwise, the blood of their followers will be on their heads. There will simply be nobody else to blame.

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