FLAT EARTH

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If US foreign policy has ever baffled you (see below for one example), now you can get some answers. Simply e-mail Madeleine Albright, the Secretary of State, and ask her to explain.

The State Department promises you will get a reply if you send your queries to secretary@state.gov - though not necessarily from Albright herself. "I cannot guarantee you she's going to personally sit at home every night and answer every e-mail message," a spokesman said. No kidding.

Still, on your behalf I will quiz Ms Albright about one or two aspects of US policy you might also find confusing, such as what she intends to do about Bosnia, or about the Swiss banks holding Jewish assets from the Second World War. If she (or her cyberspace writer) says anything interesting I will let you know.

Bad, bad, Burma

Those horrid generals running Burma deserve everything they get in the way of criticism from Amnesty International and Malcolm Rifkind. Our Foreign Secretary called them a "rather nasty, dictatorial regime", and quite right too. Only the other day they were stamping out the last embers of resistance among the Karen rebels, and look at the way they treat that wonderful woman, Aung San Suu Kyi.

The state of Massachusetts feels so strongly about it all that it has banned any dealings with companies which do business in Burma - PepsiCo is the latest to pull out - and has ticked off Japan and the EU for complaining. Congress has voted for President Clinton to ban further US investment in the country if anything bad is done to Suu Kyi - or, of course, anyone else in the opposition.

No doubt this will make Americans, especially those living in Massachusetts, feel better about themselves. But one cannot help suspecting that Burma just happens to be a handy size for a bit of moral outrage. China is also vile to its minorities, has a much bigger gulag population (many making products for export) and certainly wouldn't allow anyone to tell tourists to stay away, as Suu Kyi does. But Clinton has given up trying to set human rights conditions for trade with China, and any attempt by Massachusetts to put the squeeze on companies with Chinese interests would be simply unenforceable.

No, Burma makes an easier target. Not big enough to cause economic problems at home, ruled by military men with no PR sense who are opposed by a beautiful woman speaking fluent English on TV - now that's the kind of foreign policy conundrum anyone can handle.

A bit off key ...

When Mr Rifkind gave his views on Burma he was visiting Singapore, a state which likes order at the best of times. With our Foreign Secretary and so many other important people in town for talks between the European Union and south-east Asia, you would imagine security to be massive.

But when our man arrived at the British delegation's hotel and asked for one of its members, he was somewhat startled to be given a room key. He visited the room when the occupant was there, and found it strewn with confidential files, but resisted the temptation to return later for a closer look.

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