In a spirit befitting the holidays, Indian Ambassador Naresh Chandra welcomed two Indian envoys and the State Department officials who have been debating thorny issues by saying, "We are managing our disagreements without disagreeing."

Assistant Secretary of State for South Asian Affairs Karl F. Inderfurth was already in the holiday spirit and instead of making a speech, he read a poem:

'Twas the night before Christmas,

and all through Washington City

the experts were meeting

to address the nitty-gritty.

He was referring to the guests of honor who had come to Washington for discussions. Two Foreign Ministry envoys, Alok Prasad, head of the Americas division, and Rakesh Sood, head of the disarmament commission, met with U.S. officials this week as part of a dialogue on nuclear and terrorism issues between Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott and Indian Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh. Ambassador Michael Sheehan, U.S. coordinator for counterterrorism, spent most of the evening on the telephone in a coat room, keeping abreast of news related to fears of holiday attacks on U.S. soil.

Diplomats of both countries

were planning with care

for the day the president

soon would go 'there',

Inderfurth continued, alluding to President Clinton's trip to India and Bangladesh in March. He would not say whether Pakistan would be on the itinerary, but it seems unlikely. In the spirit of "peace on earth, goodwill to all men and women," the State Department's South Asian Bureau sent out a season's greeting for Christmas, Hanukah and Ramadan that was all sugar and spice.

For Afghanistan, for example, the bureau wished for "an end to the two-decade-long conflict that has brought so much destruction and misery for the Afghan people and the establishment of a representative government that will end Afghanistan's isolation."

For Bangladesh, it wished "a democratic spirit of accommodation and compromise that will allow government leaders and opposition to work together"; and for Pakistan, "a prompt return to democracy."

For Bhutan, the holiday greeting hoped for "wisdom as it takes further steps to increase its interaction with the international community while preserving its distinct culture and traditions"; for Sri Lanka, "peace and reconciliation among all the people of Sri Lanka and a special expression of concern for the most recent victims of violence and terrorism".

Sanctions Exemption for Iran

The U.S. government has given Boeing permission to export engine struts for seven aging Iranian passenger planes, according to a spokeswoman at the State Department's sanctions division. The exemption to the sanctions was made for air safety and humanitarian concerns, a U.S. official said. The struts attach the engine to the wing.

After a 1992 El Al plane crash, the Federal Aviation Administration ordered all U.S.-registered Boeings to be updated by February 2000, the spokeswoman explained. "This comes under the humanitarian exception and I think it is a very good idea," said a recently retired U.S. official who follows the Iranian-U.S. relationship closely.

On Monday, Iran said it supported diplomatic efforts by its regional ally, Syria, to regain the Golan Heights from Israel, despite Tehran's general opposition to the Middle East peace process. Last weekend, the Islamic Republic News Agency said Iran's economic council, chaired by President Mohammed Khatemi, approved the purchase of two Boeing 727s and two engines for Asseman Airline. The 727 is no longer manufactured, which means Iran is buying used planes from another airline.

Muslim Leaders Invited to Dine

The first time Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright hosted an iftar, a fast-breaking Ramadan dinner, at the State Department, it was for Palestine Authority leader Yasser Arafat and his delegation last year. This year, she told guests last Tuesday, she had considered inviting diplomats but thought it even more fitting to reach out to leading members of America's Muslim community, because, "after all, U.S. foreign policy is conducted in your name."

Referring to Chechnya, as well as Srbrenica, Rwanda and Kosovo, she said: "People were being killed . . . not because of anything they had done but simply for who they were. Killing the innocent does not defeat terror, it feeds terror."