Last night, while other heads of state joined President Obama for a reception at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Colonel Muammar Qaddafi repaired to the Libyan Mission to attend to diplomatic business. The Swiss premier Hans-Rudolf Merz was paying a visit in an effort to restore normal relations between the two countries.

The fissure began last August, when Muammar’s son Hannibal was arrested in Geneva together with his wife on charges of beating up two of their domestic servants. Like an American government linking foreign policy to human rights, the Libyan regime stood firm on respect for its aristocratic privileges. It conveyed its extreme displeasure, with consequences threatened, to the Swiss government. (Never mind that the central government has little say over the actions of the police and judiciary in an individual canton.) The complaint was soon dropped as the servants received some form of compensation, but that was not the end of the matter.

In retaliation for the initial insult, Libya withdrew assets from Swiss banks, cut off ties with Swiss businesses, and withheld oil deliveries. Shortly thereafter, two Swiss businessmen were detained in Tripoli for holding improper visas. An eye for an eye. After many months of negotiations failed to secure the prisoners’ freedom, Merz traveled personally to Libya in August and apologized to the Libyan people for Hannibal’s arrest. He claims to have been orally promised and to have received some kind of written assurance that this would be enough to get them home. But the Libyan government then declared that it could hardly interfere so brazenly in the legal process; the matter would have to play out in court. The Swiss premier flew back to Bern, his countrymen and his dignity remaining behind.

And so he went again last night to supplicate before Qaddafi in New York, presumably bringing his checkbook and plenty of shoe polish. Just what Merz can hope to get from the meeting is unknown, especially given how jet-lagged the volatile colonel declared himself to be at the beginning of his two-hour address yesterday at the General Assembly. One hopes for the sake of the two prisoners that Merz postdated any payment for after their release.

Message to the State Department: Never pay a Qaddafi today for a hamburger on Tuesday.

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