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Western Press Review: U.S.-China Relations, Middle East, Helsinki

  • Joel Blocker

Prague, 31 March 1997 (RFE/RL) - Commentary in the U.S. press today and over the Easter holiday weekend focused largely on Washington's relations with Beijing and on Arab-Israeli developments. And Henry Kissinger gives low marks to the recent Helsinki Summit of the Russian and U.S. Presidents.

NEW YORK TIMES: Gore stumbles in China

Writing from Seoul in yesterday's New York Times, correspondent James Bennet assesses U.S. Vice President Al Gore's four-day visit to China last week, concluding that "Gore lacked luster (and the trip) sorely taxed his improvisational skills." Bennet writes that "Pinned in the spotlight, Gore did not demonstrate anything approaching the nimbleness or ease of his boss (President Bill Clinton) and past presidents on such trips....Gore made no bold moves....As his motorcade swept past crowds of staring adults and waving children, he never once stopped to shake hands or to question people who were not on his official itinerary." Bennet allows that, "on the policy front, Gore lent weight to the Administration's argument for cooperating economically with the Chinese." But he concludes that, on both policy and political ground, "Gore stumbled" on his Asian voyage.

A Washington-based analysis of U.S.-China policy in Sunday's New York Times, written by David Sanger, reveals that "in the next few days, a presidential advisory commission will (deliver) a voluminous study of America's economic problems with Asia (focusing) on the Administration's biggest foreign-policy headache: finding a new way to talk to China." Sanger says: "No one is satisfied with the meager exchanges that pass for dialogue between the world's strongest power and its most ambitious one. Everyone agrees that Washington has to break out of the circular debate over how to influence Chinese behavior....The trade threat is an empty one, and the Chinese know it," Sanger continues. "The biggest loser would be the U.S. companies that have invested (thousands of millions) in the world's most promising emerging market; the winners would be their Japanese and European competitors."


The Washington Post's reporter on Gore's trip, John Harris, also found the Vice President "cautious, calculating and wooden -- when the spotlight was on" him in China. But Harris gives Gore higher marks for "the entirely different person (that) kept lurking in the shadows." That other Gore, Harris says in his analysis, "was breezy, spontaneous and impassioned -- and he showed up mostly when Gore knew no large audience was watching." He concludes Gore's "schedule was intended to produce powerful images of a president-in-waiting....But the man at the center of (televised) vivid scenes remained a blur of contradictions....Gore managed both to defy his reputation for stiffness and to reinforce it. A man who in public labors with the image of a bore, in private keeps up a regular patter of jokes and irreverent asides."

LOS ANGELES TIMES: Gingrich deploys tough love

In a third major U.S. daily today, the Los Angeles Times, correspondent Rone Tempest analyzes last week's trip to China of another high U.S. official, the Republican Speaker of the House of Representatives Newt Gingrich. He writes that Gingrich, "who only a year ago was accusing the Chinese Government of 'terrorism' in the Taiwan Strait, bubbled with enthusiasm for China's leadership, its economy, its history and its promise....The way to deal with China, (Gingrich) said during his visit, is to smother it with a kind of diplomatic tough love: 'constant pressure, constant friendship and constant dialogue....If you can be respectful but firm,' (Gingrich said,) you can get a long way with China.'"

LOS ANGELES TIMES: Effect of Arab League action uncertain

The Los Angeles Times today also carries a report from the Middle East analyzing yesterday's recommendation by the Arab League that its members freeze relations with Israel. Writing from Cairo -- where the League's decision was taken -- correspondent John Daniszewski calls the action "a sharp symbolic rebuke (of the settlement policies of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Natanyahu) that could mean a major reversal of Israel's hard-won diplomatic gains of the past several years." Daniszewski notes, however, that the League's "resolution was not automatically binding, and individual governments must still decide how to implement the recommendation. The two countries that have formal peace treaties with Israel -- Egypt and Jordan -- were not expected to abrogate the treaties or back away from economic cooperation (with Israel) already under way."

LOS ANGELES TIMES: Kissinger says summit harms NATO

Henry Kissinger's harsh criticisms of the recent Helsinki summit meeting of Presidents Bill Clinton and Boris Yeltsin were written for the Los Angeles Times (News) Syndicate. The former U.S. Secretary of State and National Security Advisor says that "those of us reared...on the conviction that the Atlantic Alliance is the keystone of American policy -- and who remain convinced of it -- can only regard (the summit's results) with deep melancholy." Kissinger writes "At Helsinki, Russian acquiescence to a decision that Moscow is in no position to prevent (NATO expansion eastward) was achieved at an exorbitant price. We seem to be on the verge on enlarging NATO by measures that undermine its ability to carry out the three functions that have made it the guarantor of peace for nearly half a century."

Those three functions, Kissinger explains, are "(1) Rapid, secure and frank consultations among like-minded nations about critical international issues; (2) effective crisis management; (and 3) a credible system of deterrence under an effective, integrated military command. Each of (them)," he continues, "is being jeopardized by the deal sketched at Helsinki. The NATO Council, in which the Allies conduct their most sensitive consultations, is to be diluted by the creation of a competing NATO-plus-Russia forum. Russian liaison officers will be attached to the various NATO commands. Henceforth, crises are unlikely to be managed -- or even defined -- with anything like the previous coherence....(A NATO never-never land is emerging with) a plethora of institutions that soon will compete for NATO consultation..."

Kissinger concludes that a "deeper, almost philosophical issue is involved." He writes "No member of the founding generation of the Atlantic Alliance would ever bring himself to say, as Clinton did at Helsinki, that NATO was 'basically a mirror image of the Warsaw Pact.' For we saw NATO as something unique and precious...while the generation framed by (the war in) Vietnam views the Atlantic Alliance as a relic of the Cold War, if not an obstacle to overcoming it. That generation's goal is not to enlarge and strengthen the Atlantic Community but to 'erase dividing lines.'"