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Western Press Review: Test Almighty Money

By Don Hill and Aurora Gallego

Prague, 13 October 1997 (RFE/RL) -- With the United States reluctantly heaving its weight about in a continuing effort to force international cooperation to isolate Iran economically, recent Western press commentary turns to this and other economic issues. Some commentators refer to U.S. trade, or economic, "imperialism." One adopts a more neutral term -- "extraterritorialism."

FRANKFURTER ALLGEMEINE: This form of U.S. trade imperialism annoys Europeans

Recently the paper wrote: "Washington is threatening the French oil concern Total with sanctions because (Total) does not want to abandon an investment project in Iran valued at $2 billion. The Europeans are rightly annoyed at this form of U.S. trade imperialism because, with its threats, Washington seems to be blind in one eye. In the port of Dubai alone, freighters whose destination is the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas are loaded with US electronic and "dual-use" goods valued at several billions of dollars. (And), at the very hour when Washington is threatening the French company, a U.S. oil envoy is courting the mullahs' favor:

The representative of the Texan oil company Conoco for the Near East, who resides in Dubai, is probing the market chances of his company in Tehran -- with Washington's knowledge."

WASHINGTON POST: The deal would be a further challenge to the Clinton administration

David B. Ottaway and Dan Morgan reported yesterday that a second huge pipeline deal is in the making in Iran. But, in their analysis, they say that the United States has fewer objections. They write: "The British-Dutch energy conglomerate Shell is negotiating to build a $2.5 billion gas pipeline across northern Iran, the second multibillion-dollar project involving a European oil company in a huge energy deal involving the Tehran regime, according to diplomatic sources."

The analysis says: "Following a September 28 announcement by the French company Total that it planned to invest $2 billion in Iran's offshore gas fields, the deal would be a further challenge to the Clinton administration's attempts to isolate Iran. However, the administration decided last July that the trans-Iranian gas pipeline would not be a direct violation of a U.S. trade law mandating sanctions against companies investing more than $20 million a year in Iran's energy sector because the project is designed to involve only Turkmeni gas in transit to Turkey, rather than Iranian production."

The writers add: "There are mounting signs that the administration's policy, which is aimed at denying Tehran funds to support international terrorism and develop weapons of mass destruction, is unraveling under pressure to export the oil and gas wealth of the Caspian Sea countries."

NEW YORK TIMES: Let's sanction the oil companies but announce at the same time that we will review the sanctions

Today, commentator Thomas L. Friedman reports a fictional conversation between U.S. President Bill Clinton and Madeleine Albright, his secretary of state. Here are excerpts from the talks, as imagined by Friedman:

"Clinton -- 'What a mess (this Total deal is). France, Russia and Malaysia all together in one deal to stick a finger in my eye. (French President) Jacques Chirac just won't forgive me for not giving France that southern command of NATO, and he's using this to get his revenge. Jacques Chirac -- that guy is the Janet Reno of diplomacy. With allies like him, who needs enemies?' "Albright: 'Sure, what does France care? Iranian terrorists aren't attacking their troops in Saudi Arabia. They don't threaten Russians or Malaysians.' "

"Albright: 'Let's face it, our Iran policy is coming apart. We need an adjustment. Here's what I'm thinking: First, we have to impose our sanctions on Total, Gazprom and Petronas. . . . We would have no credibility if we don't.' "

" 'Let's sanction the oil companies but announce at the same time that we will review the sanctions in six months. We'll watch to see if there is any change in Iran's hostile behavior. If there is, we will consider waiving the sanctions. This way we give the Europeans, Iran and the oil companies an incentive to show that Iran is changing, and we also show we are serious about responding to change.' "

INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE: U.S. officials reportedly are eager to avoid a battle

Today, Barry James reports that U.S. and European negotiators are to meet this week to discuss the question of U.S. "extra-territoriality." He writes in an analysis: "The talks will unfold in the aftermath of (the sanctions dispute) and similarly contentious trans-Atlantic issues."

James says: "The U.S. effort to sanction companies trading with Tehran has been challenged by Total SA, the French oil company." He writes: "Although U.S. officials reportedly are eager to avoid a battle over sanctions, they have opened an inquiry on Total's deal with Iran. The European Commission also is eager to avoid a larger clash. But it has wanted that, if the talks break down, it will denounce the United States before the World Trade Organization."

WALL STREET JOURNAL: The world has never seen an imperium of this kind, and it is hard to know what to make of it

U.S. commentator and editor Irving Kristol commented recently: "One of these days, the American people are going to awaken to the fact that they have become an imperial nation." Kristol goes on to discuss what he calls the worldwide American "imperium." He says this status, in part, has been thrust on the United States.

He says: "The evolution of NATO is a perfect illustration. (NATO's) meaning today is that the United States has provided the nations of Europe with a unilateral guarantee of their existing borders against aggression." Kristol writes: "Europe today has no ambitions beyond preserving its welfare state as best it can and doing as much profitable business as possible with the rest of the world. Its military expenditures keep declining and are made ever more reluctantly."

Kristol cites U.S. hegemony in Latin America and Asia also, and he writes: "The world has never seen an imperium of this kind, and it is hard to know what to make of it. In its favor, it lacks the brute coercion that characterized European imperialism." He concludes: "While the people of the world may want and need it now, one wonders how soon they will weary of it."

LE FIGARO: Much more urgent is to head off a situation in which failure of coordination would lead to a war of competition

Today the French newspaper addresses a different economic conflict, the one between the nations of Europe over matching their economic and cultural norms to facilitate a single European currency. The paper says: "It won't be possible in Europe to avoid a harmonization of the fiscal and social rules. Coordinating economic policies to create new jobs is often discussed. But much more urgent is to head off a situation in which failure of coordination would lead to a war of competition." For example, "National parliaments will have to accept limits to their independence, and adopt ranges of maximum and minimum rates for taxes, health insurance premiums, and pensions."

TIMES: We could have a Black Monday today

Commentator William Rees-Mogg sails on an entirely different tack today. He says that historic precedence suggests that a disastrous international stock market crash is around tomorrow's -- or next week's, or next year's -- corner. In a commentary, "Counting the Days to a Black Monday," he writes: "No one can know when the top of the boom will come, or whether it has already passed. I suspect that Wall Street will find it very hard to stay above 8,000 on the Dow Jones, but I may be wrong; we could have a Black Monday today, or in a week's time, or in a year or two.

The certainty is that stock market values are already way above their historic norms; they are way above their long-term trend lines, in the United States, in Europe, and in those other world stock markets which have not yet fallen. The likelihood is that stock markets will not have a soft landing; if the mutual fund investors of the United States stop buying, Wall Street will have to fall a long way to get them started again. The risk of a stock market crash is a threat to world prosperity. Japan has had seven lean years after the fall of its stock market. The United States had ten lean years after 1929. There is much more than the fortunes of speculators riding on the Wall Street indices."