Last week, a radio announcement from Baghdad grabbed the world's attention with a statement that Iraq might be willing to consider withdrawing from Kuwait.
After studying the statement, President Bush called it a "cruel hoax." The president and other coalition leaders felt that Iraq's statement included demands that were unacceptable.
Iraq's statement didn't bring an end to the war. But it did start a new round of "diplomacy" -- and that's a word we'll be hearing often before the war finally ends. The purpose of diplomacy is to bring an end to wars and, better yet, to keep them from happening in the first place.
Diplomacy is the way nations talk and behave with other nations. many ways, diplomacy is like a game -- except that when this game goes wrong, wars can start and people can die. In fact, war is often described as a failure of diplomacy -- a failure to solve a problem by talking it out.
In most cases, diplomacy takes place through teams of diplomats, led by their team leaders, called ambassadors. Before the war started, President Bush or U.S. Secretary of State James A. Baker III could call in the ambassador from Iraq to give him a message for Saddam Hussein. In Baghdad, Saddam could do the same thing with the American ambassador.
Now that there is a war, other countries, like Iran and the Soviet Union, are delivering messages between the two sides.
It may help to think of diplomacy as a giant game with hundreds of different-sized teams. The teams all share the same playing field -- the planet Earth -- but they don't always agree on the rules or who should enforce them.
When that happens, as it did when Iraq invaded Kuwait, there is a "diplomatic crisis." The crisis can be settled in several different ways, and one of them is war.
But a much better way is to simply talk -- as two friends might talk themselves out of an argument that might otherwise lead to a fist fight. That's called "diplomatic negotiation."
Talk can be backed up with "economic sanctions" -- which means that other countries basically draw a line around the unruly country and refuse to let anything in or out. That's what the United States, Saudi Arabia and their allies tried first against Iraq.
But sanctions take a long time to work, so the United States and the allies used the United Nations as a referee. The U.N. passed a resolution telling Iraq that if it did not leave Kuwait by Jan. 15 the allied coalition would use force. Many people felt the threat of war would give peaceful diplomacy a better chance to work.
But it didn't, and war broke out on Jan. 16.
Now that the war is more than a month old, diplomats are busy again. The radio announcement and President Bush's rejection of it were all part of the complicated diplomatic game.