Only in Washington can you have a Democratic senator sitting next to the wife of the Republican president's chief of staff and the nation's top general a table away from the ambassador of a belligerent country and not have a brawl break out.

Ah, diplomacy.

And what better place to practice that fine art than last night's 12th annual Ambassadors Ball at the Grand Hyatt -- the $225-a-person black-tie benefit for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society that gathers the Washington diplomatic corps for an evening of champagne and dancing.

Gen. Colin Powell, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and his wife, Alma, came because, the general said, "She's very involved with this charity."

Not 10 feet away sat His Excellency, Mohamed Sadiq Mashat of Iraq.

Earlier at the VIP reception, the ambassador, sporting a blue plaid jacket and checkered bow tie, said he would "gladly greet" Powell. "I consider Americans very nice people. Social and friendly. And when they know the truth, they speak up."

But by the end of the evening, the two still had not had the chance to meet.

"That happens," said Powell, shrugging.

At the head table, Sen. Lloyd Bentsen (D-Tex.), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, who "skipped a vote to be here," found himself seated next to Nancy Sununu, co-chair (with B.A. Bentsen) of the event. White House Chief of Staff John Sununu was supposed to sit next to B.A. Bentsen, but he was late.

"We hope he'll get away from the budget hearings for at least an hour and join us," said Nancy Sununu.

Diplomacy.

"When I came to Washington 12 years ago, I saw how much the corps does to support humanitarian efforts and organizations such as the symphony and the ballet, and no one officially recognized them," said Jeanne Bradley, executive director of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. "So I decided to have a ball -- to thank them."

The ball didn't just attract the official diplomatic corps, though. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, Agriculture Secretary Clayton Yeutter and Kennedy Center Chairman James Wolfensohn (a past president of the International MS Foundation) nibbled on filet and crab cakes, surveyed the silent auction tables and waltzed on the dance floor.

Before the dinner, guests and ambassadors were lining up to shake hands with Powell. "Give 'em hell, Colin," shouted someone across the room.

Another guest introduced himself by saying, "I'm a former general."

"I'll be a former general someday too!" chuckled Powell, as he grasped the man's hand firmly. "Remember, once a general, always a general."

Diplomacy.