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Press Review: Russia Reaching Out; Israel Digging In

  • Don Hill



Prague, April 23 (RFE/RL) - Press commentators turned a critical eye on Israel, as bombing continued in Lebanon despite worldwide reaction to the shelling of refugees sheltered at a U.N. base. They continued also to puzzle over the meaning and impact of a meeting of the Group of Seven industrialized nations in Moscow last weekend.

Amy Wilentz writes today in the Los Angeles Times: "It's been quite a year for Israel. The prime minister assassinated; suicide bombers striking everywhere and now another war in Lebanon. This is how we pursue peace in the Middle East.... In Israel, negotiating is tantamount to weakness, and use of force equals strength.... It's certainly not a new idea, but it bears keeping in mind that the ways Israel chooses to assert its right to exist are colored by the history of the Jews, especially by recent history. It is easy for a weakling to become a bully, given the right set of schoolyard circumstances, and not even notice the change. It is easy for an army that sees itself as perpetually under siege to take the risk of shelling a Hezbollah site only 300 meters from a refugee shelter filled with civilians."

The Suddeutsche Zeitung says today in an editorial signed by Rudolph Chimelli: "France would rather play second fiddle than have no role at all in the concert of Middle East peace negotiators. In a mission which has been in progress for a week now, French Foreign Minister Herve de Charette has found discussion partners with whom the Americans have no direct line of contact such as Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Velayati. But a ceasefire capable of lasting more than just a few days can only be negotiated with the consent of Damascus and Teheran. The Syrians too are making it quite clear that they prefer the French rather than the American suggestions. Yet only the USA can come up with a solution that will not backfire. An attempt to play off Paris against Washington would be so pointless that it is not being attempted seriously."

In the British newspaper The Independent, Patrick Cockburn writes: "It was the strangest war. No Israeli died and only two were seriously wounded. But after 10 days, Operation Grapes of Wrath has failed in its aim of stopping Hezbollah, the Lebanese guerrilla movement, firing Katyusha rockets at Israel. The campaign also was directed against Syrian control of Lebanon, but has ended up strengthening it. No military campaign in the Middle East has so wholly failed to achieve its political objectives since President Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1990. Israel was quick to see that the turning point for the operation had come on Thursday when its howitzers pulverized the U.N. compound, housing 700 refugees, at Qana. The death of 101 Lebanese, shown on every television screen in the U.S., robbed Grapes of Wrath of American support, which was always central to its success."

"Bill Clinton and Boris Yeltsin proved again over the weekend that it is impossible to separate diplomacy from domestic politics, especialy in an election year," The New York Times editorializes today. The editorial goes on: "In a series of stage-managed meetings in Moscow, the two presidents nudged relations a bit closer, but left a queasy feeling (that each was) shaving differences to give the other a political assist.... Clinton and Yeltsin have now held 10 meetings since Clinton became president in 1993, usually improving relations and reducing military threats each time they talked. They made some modest additions to that record over the weekend, but could not disguise their other purpose. It was to insure that they have the chance to get together again next year as second-term presidents."

The Wall Street Journal Europe says today in an editorial that Yeltsin must have relished Clinton's likening of the Chechen conflict to the U.S. Civil War. "This was not some off-the-cuff remark," the Journal says. "No, the White House deliberately chose to ignore the most glaring distinction - that the U.S. Civil War was, in the main, about ending slavery. Russia's destruction of Chechnya has nothing at all to do with granting freedom.... The cavalier attitude toward principle and policy displayed in Moscow sends... precisely the wrong message."

Bernard D Kaplan makes a similar point in a commentary distributed in the United States yesterday by the New York Times News Service. He writes: "President Clinton was rigging history when he told Boris Yeltsin last weekend that he could sympathize with the Russian leader's difficulties in the breakaway republic of Chechnya because the United States had once fought a war against secession.... It's wrong, and potentially dangerous, to encourage the Russians to believe that in suppressing the Chechens for the umpteenth time, they are doing no more than the United States did in quelling the Confederate states. This provides a moral justification for Russia's brutality that, at the very least, is questionable.... Nobody today would describe the population of the former Confederacy as an oppressed people who, since their defeat, have periodically risen up and sought to reverse the war's verdict.... As it happens, while America was embroiled in the Civil War, Russian troops were simultaneously fighting to crush Chechen rebels who didn't accept the czar's military annexation of their country in the early years of the 19th century."

The Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun says in an editorial: "Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto met Russian President Boris Yeltsin April 19.... The main point of the Hashimoto-Yeltsin summit apparently was that by making an agreement that presupposes Yeltsin's reelection, the Japanese government effectively demonstrated support for it.... U.S. President Bill Clinton has tried to woo Yeltsin by drumming up world support for an International Monetary Fund loan of $10.2 billion (1.071 trillion yen) to Russia, while German Chancellor Helmut Kohl takes a sauna bath with Yeltsin every six months to strengthen their personal ties. Yeltsin phoned the leaders of the United States, Germany, France and Britain in late February to ask for bigger loans. But he never called the prime minister of Japan, the nation that has made the second largest IMF contribution along with Germany. Compared to the relationships being kept up with Yeltsin by those world leaders in this post-Cold War era, efforts for close ties by Japan lag considerably behind."
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