Leading article: A foreign policy of resolution, not rancour

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THIS WEEK'S agreement with Libya is the latest of several notable diplomatic achievements by the Foreign Office. Patient and intricate negotiations have secured the surrender by Colonel Gaddafi of the Lockerbie suspects, something approaching a resolution of the Salman Rushdie affair with Iran, and now acknowledgement by Tripoli that it was responsible for the murder of WPC Yvonne Fletcher in 1984. As a result, Britain has restored relations with two states it had long held to be beyond the pale, without yielding on any point of principle.

Less widely noticed, Robin Cook recently became the first Foreign Secretary to meet his Cuban counterpart since the Castro revolution in 1959, while in June Britain re-established normal ties with Sudan (though these were only severed after Mr Cook had foolishly supported America's wanton missile attack on a Khartoum pharmaceutical plant, on the erroneous grounds it produced chemical weapons).

The moves are welcome for two reasons. First, by seeking to engage rather than isolate potentially hostile countries, we are increasing our ability to convey our point of view and, however marginally, to influence events. This goes especially for Iran, whatever we think of the clerics who long shaped its anti-Western policy.

The other advantage is that by establishing dialogue, we are differentiating ourselves from the US. As Sudan showed, Britain too often comes across as an American cat's-paw, the faithful ally desperate to preserve its special relationship with the lone superpower. The fact that we are back on normal terms with Tripoli and Teheran can only enhance our credibility throughout the Middle East. And one final thought. If we are once again doing business with Iran and Libya, is it not time, after eight years, to re-examine a manifestly bankrupt policy towards Iraq?