The most choreographed aspect of any meeting between two heads-of-state is the handshake. Of course, some handshakes are better choreographed than others, but the essential elements are usually the same: warm smiles, tight clenches, and an eye towards the camera—no matter what the two leaders think of each other.
Given the prevalence of the handshake in international relations, most handshakes are entirely unspectacular. Yet, among the thousands of picture-perfect handshakes that leaders deliver to the media each year, some inevitably stand out as especially encouraging, disappointing, or ironic. With this in mind, I present the top five handshakes of 2007:
5. Russian President Vladimir Putin and George H.W. Bush’s dog. Granted, this isn’t a handshake, per se. Yet the intense look on Putin’s face indicates that serious business is being accomplished. With a respected former president looking on, Putin’s meeting with the well-connected mutt has the appearance of a major diplomatic success.
4. French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi. This handshake proves that memories are impressively short in international affairs. In 1989, Libya was implicated in the UTA 772 bombing, in which 170 people were murdered while flying to Paris; a French court found Qaddafi’s own brother-in-law, among five others, culpable. But this month, Qaddafi—having since accepted responsibility for the attack, compensated the families, and destroyed his WMD—was welcomed in Paris. It rarely gets more awkward than this, and not just because of Qaddafi’s beatnik-styled facial hair.
3. U.S. President George W. Bush poses with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. As I noted last month, the Annapolis Conference ended with a shutout: three Olmert–Abbas-with-Bush-in-between handshakes, and zero peace-promoting accomplishments.
2. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad greets
his favorite basketball player Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. I know: Syria sent its deputy foreign minister to Annapolis, so it’s entering the U.S. orbit and moving away from Iran. Apparently the Syrian president and his Iranian counterpart haven’t gotten the memo.
1. Abbas shakes hands with Hamas leaders Khalid Meshal and Ismail Haniyeh. Like so many Hamas-Fatah truces before it, this one started with Hamas’s reeling from Israeli strikes and political isolation and ended with Hamas stronger than it had ever been previously. Hamas now controls Gaza, and has set its sights on the West Bank. Yet, for a few moments in February, this latest Hamas-Fatah truce held so much promise—as a symbol of their unity, Abbas, Meshal, and Haniyeh had even coordinated their outfits. It doesn’t get more choreographed than that.