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Western Press Review: Compromises Defuse Tension

  • Joel Blocker



Prague, 21 November 1997 (RFE/RL) -- Several Western press editorials and commentaries today assess the Russia-mediated, apparently successful United Nations compromise deal with Iraq that has, for the moment at least, defused tensions in the Persian Gulf. Other comments deal with Russia's own government problems, while still others discuss today's special European Union summit on jobs.

GUARDIAN: Saddam has learnt that the West is steely about enforcing the letter, but not the spirit, of the law it has laid down

"Russia Saves Saddam" is the title of the British daily Guardian's editorial, which begins by posing the question: "Is Saddam Hussein 'back in his box?'" The paper replies that "the permanent members of the UN Security Council, who accepted the deal brokered with Iraq by Russia, would undoubtedly answer in the affirmative....The official wisdom of the West holds that the status quo ante has been restored, without anything having been conceded to the Mesopotamian tyrant." The Guardian disagrees strongly, however, writing: "Unfortunately, Saddam has paid little, if any, price for his delinquency. First of all, he has learnt a valuable lesson about how far he can push the current crop of Western leaders. Lenin would certainly have approved of his approach. 'Probe with bayonets,' counseled the founder of the Soviet state. 'If you encounter steel, withdraw. If you encounter mush, continue.' And Saddam has learnt that the West is steely about enforcing the letter, but not the spirit, of the law it has laid down."

The editorial continues: "For the American administration has indicated that, once it has achieved satisfaction in the matter of the formal composition of the UN inspectorate, it would be willing to review the subsequent activities of that team....Indeed, Saddam can even claim to his people (and to much of the Moslem world) to have affected American policy towards the Arab-Israeli conflict....To curry favor with (Arab states) Secretary of State Madeleine Albright delivered a stridently anti-Israeli address at (last weekend's) regional economic form in Qatar. The paper concludes: "The biggest winners in all this are the Russians....They have shown that they can protect Arab states (and even rogue regimes) from American pressure....The consistent thread of the career of Russian Foreign Minister Yevgeni Primakov, both today and in the Communist epoch, has been the diminution of American influence."

WALL STREET JOURNAL: Russia has scored a diplomatic coup

A news analysis in the Wall Street Journal Europe agrees that Russia's key role in the Iraq crisis has increased its influence in the region. Co-authors Neil King and Matthew Brzezinski write: "Three things are clear: Saddam Hussein's tough talk and intransigence have paid off. Washington's allies have pulled away from its hard line toward Baghdad. And Russia has scored a diplomatic coup likely to enhance its stature in the Middle East." They cite analysts' views that "the Russian-brokered deal...appears likely to weaken the sanctions imposed on Iraq after the U.S.-led defeat of Saddam's army in early 1991." And they quote one of them, Peter Rodman, as saying: "Russia and others might talk about this being an unconditional agreement to let the arms inspectors back in, but that is misleading in the extreme. Now everything appears open to compromise, and it's clear that Saddam plans to apply whatever leverage he can to get the sanctions loosened or lifted altogether."

As for Russia, King and Brzezinski continue, the deal "was something to celebrate in a country that has seen more bad news than good on the foreign-policy front over the past five years. Its traditional allies in Central Europe are defecting to the West. The Baltic states have also turned their backs on Moscow and old dominions like Ukraine now snub the Kremlin at every opportunity. The setbacks close to home," they say, "are one reason why Mr. Primakov, an Arab specialist, has focused his attention on the oil-soaked deserts of the Middle East as the one part of the world where Russia can still compete with Washington.

INDEPENDENT: The Kremlin had the rare pleasure of basking in the glow of international approval.

Similar analyses appear in the British dailies The Independent and Financial Times. The Independent's Phil Reeves writes: "Russia's mediation in the Iraq crisis has given Moscow new hope that it is still a powerful force on the international stage. It was a triumph for a nation that has long felt neglected in the wake of its lost empire...And it was a vintage performance in the negotiating career of a wily former Russian spy-master....Yesterday, as Mr. Primakov set off to tour Latin America, the Kremlin had the rare pleasure of basking in the glow of international approval."

FINANCIAL TIMES: A win on points for Saddam Hussein



In the Financial Times, David Gardner calls the deal "a win on points for Saddam Hussein." He reasons: "To the extent that the Iraqi leader's intention was to get the issue of sanctions-lifting back on the UN agenda, he appears to be emerging from the three-week stand-off ahead....It is also now likely that the UN will look at increasing the oil-for-food facility, under which Iraq can sell oil worth $2 billion to import food and medicine --once (the UN inspectorate team is again) operational." Gardner cites "Primakov, jubilant as the architect of the still opaque deal, (as haling) it as a first step toward the lifting of sanctions as Iraq's reward for compliance."

Two British journals today discuss the fall-out from this week's firing by President Boris Yeltsin of his Finance Minister Anatoli Chubais --who Yeltsin has so far retained as Deputy Prime Minister-- because of charges he accepted $90,000 from a book publisher who had benefited from Chubais-inspired privatization.

FINANCIAL TIMES: For the country as a whole, the implications look deeply worrying

In a commentary from Moscow, Financial Times correspondent Chrystia Freeland writes: "The timing could hardly have been worse. The architect of Russia's reforms has lost his power base less than a month after the collapse of the (Moscow) stock market. The downfall of Chubais --and that of his closest allies-- also comes soon after an emergency increase of interest rates to protect the ruble and just at a time when Communists in parliament have been seeking to wreck next year's budget. So why," Freeland asks, "is everybody not panicking? Perhaps they should be," she comments.

Freeland explains: "For the country as a whole, the implications look deeply worrying. The accusations (against Chubais) have apparently been orchestrated by a coterie of bankers opposed to his liberalization policies. Two or three years ago, his downfall would probably have spelled the end of his reforms and, even now, many remain deeply pessimistic." She suggests that the impact on foreign investors will be "devastating," writing: "Many investors feel that worse is to come....The interest-rate rise has put further pressure on Moscow's already strained public finances. Foreigners must notify the Government one month before pulling out of the treasury-not market, so over the next few weeks Russia may face an exodus of foreign cash. That, combined with the shakiness of local banks, could be a further strain on the already wobbly currency."

ECONOMIST: All is not lost.

The weekly Economist, published today, takes a longer-range and more sanguine view of the matter. In its lead editorial, entitled "Is Russia Going Wrong?" the magazine answers its own question in the negative. It writes: "The current crisis of leadership is worrying, to be sure: without dexterous and steely hands in charge, the Russian machine of state is always prone to splutter and grind. Yet," it adds, "all is not lost." The Economist asks its readers to "bear in mind that the transformation already achieved in Russia since 1991, when Boris Yeltsin came to power, is little short of miraculous, however much remains to be done. Especially since reformers led by Mr. Chubais grasped the levers of government last Spring, Russia's health has begun to improve more quickly, showing what determined leadership can achieve....Inflation, for the moment, is under control. Until Asia's (recent) troubles put all stock markets in the dock, Russian equities were soaring, indicating a new willingness by foreigners to make the investments in Russia that the country needs so badly."

The editorial concludes: "In short, things have improved a lot: the mood of despair to which Russians and outsiders alike are prone is often overdone. A platform is in place for economic and political progress. The question is whether the opportunity can be seized --or whether the humbling of Mr. Chubais, whom many see as the only reformer capable of meeting the challenge, will delay Russia's deliverance, possibly for years."

WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE: Mr. Yeltsin believes that only through reform can he secure Russia's future and therefore his place in history

A former British ambassador (1988-92) to Moscow, Rodric Braithwaite, also is relatively optimistic about Russia surviving Chubais' downfall. In a commentary in the Wall Street Journal Europe, he writes: " Mr. Yeltsin is a far more old-fashioned Russian politician that his predecessor Mikhail Gorbachev. (Yeltsin) has an unerring instinct for power. But he has little ability or desire to formulate coherent political programs or to build durable political institutions....Yet when the chips are down he has always supported the cause of liberal reform....He has pressed for economic change despite the sacrifices imposed on the voters. He has sacked Chubais and his reforming colleagues before, only to bring them back into government when the row died down." Why is this so, Braithwaite asks? He answers: "My Russian friends say, optimistically, that Mr. Yeltsin believes that only through reform can he secure Russia's future and therefore his place in history. They may be right."

FINANCIAL TIMES: The fundamental problem is that EU-wide guidelines cannot tackle the root causes of unemployment

Assessing today's special EU summit in Luxembourg on jobs, the Financial Times bluntly entitles its editorial "Europe Isn't Working." The paper writes: "(The EU's) employment record is dismal. The proportion of the labor force out of work has exceeded 10 percent for nearly five years. This is not just worrying for individual countries. Europe's labor-market rigidity may also lead to tension within (the EU's coming) Economic and Monetary Union (EMU)...A single monetary policy could lead to widely diverging employment rates (among) EMU countries --and social and political pressures-- if labor markets are too inflexible."

The Financial Times questions "whether the guidelines (prepared by the EU's Executive Commission and) being discussed by Europe's leaders are the right way to go about reform, and whether agreement (on them) today will help governments to overcome the formidable political obstacles to change." It says: "The fundamental problem is that EU-wide guidelines cannot tackle the root causes of unemployment... The EU as a whole is most unlikely, for example, to be able to agree on how to scale down the welfare state. Furthermore, the causes of European unemployment are extremely varied. Any attempt to produce a policy to fit all countries must fail."

LIBERATION: The trouble is, there's one question that will not be posed -- that of general economic policy

A editorial in yesterday's French Left-of-Center daily Liberation, signed by Laurent Joffrin, took a bit rosier view of the jobs summit. It said that some good may come out of the meeting, writing: "The EU leaders) are going to compare their experiences, consult the big book of European recipes --some of which work very well-- define common objectives, unblock a few credits (and) reflect on differing legislative orientations. Some will stress flexibility and adapting labor markets above all, others will praise successful micro-policies followed in one European region or another at a local level, still others...will demand a more vigorous investment effort. All this can't hurt."

But the editorial continued: "The trouble is, there's one question that will not be posed (at the summit). It's that of general economic policy. The influence of monetarist logic today (in the current run-up to EMU) is such that the question can no longer even be broached.." Joffrin explains that logic: "States can do whatever they want, it is said, except play with two essential control levers: the budget --deficits must be reduced, whatever happens-- and the (new) money (the 'euro') --that's the concern of bankers, the only serious people about such matters." He concludes skeptically: "It's all as everyone was sure that, from now on, public spending had no influence on jobs --as if the (new) money had become a fact of nature, irresistible by definition, over which a human will no longer have any effect."
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