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Western Press Review: OIC, EU Meet In Historic Conferences

  • Don Hill

Prague, 12 December 1997 (RFE/RL) -- Two international conferences - continents apart - demonstrate, among other elements, that, one, the nations of the world continue to grow more interdependent, and, two, the most well-meaning exercises in inclusiveness inevitably result in some measure of exclusion. The Western press comments on both phenomena, as it examines a summit of 55 Islamic nations that ended yesterday in Tehran, and a summit of European Union members that begins today in Luxembourg.

NEW YORK TIMES: The Muslim leaders' declaration reflected the anger that has forged new bonds

Douglas Jehl writes today in a New York Times news analysis that members of the Organization of Islamic Conference agreed on criticism of Israel and avoided other heated issues that divide them. He writes: "Muslim leaders from around the world wrapped up a three-day meeting (in Iran's capital, Tehran, yesterday) by criticizing Israel for what they called state terrorism and demanding that Israel stop building settlements on Arab land." Jehl says: "(Their declaration), read out in the closing session of the meeting, reflected the anger that has forged new bonds within the Muslim world as relations between Israel and its Arab neighbors have further deteriorated."

The Times correspondent writes: "Their disagreements over a number of delicate issues, including United Nations sanctions on Iraq, prevented the delegates from issuing joint statements on points that some countries had hoped would be addressed. The final declaration, for example, included no direct mention of the Middle East peace effort, over which many of the participants strongly disagree." The writer says: "By the end of the meeting, top officials from both countries said they believed there were grounds for improved relations with Iran, which they have regarded with considerable suspicion and which they have accused of promoting violence."

LOS ANGELES TIMES: The summit is a crystal clear sign that Iran is not isolated

The Los Angeles Times' John Daniszewski writes today that, from the OIC perspective, Israel is out, Iran is in, and the United States is diminishing in influence. Daniszewski writes: " 'The summit is a crystal clear sign that, contrary to what the West is trying to portray, Iran is not isolated,' said Tehran's English-language Iran News. Improvements in relations between Iran and its Arab neighbors could prove to be a double-edged sword for the United States. On one hand, if they lower tensions in the Persian Gulf, that could reduce the need for large numbers of U.S. forces to remain on stand-by in the area. On the other hand, any rapprochement between the Arab world and Iran could put more political and military pressure on a key U.S. ally, Israel."

The writer says: "The summit-closing declaration did not directly refer to any ouster of the United States from the Gulf but did call for the creation of a committee of Muslim experts to study the issue of the 'solidarity and security of Islamic states.' The declaration also glossed over some significant conflicts that still exist between Iran and the Arab world over relations with Israel."

Daniszewski says: "The document condemned terrorism but made an exception for any struggle 'against colonial or alien domination or foreign occupation.' In other words, radical Islamic groups, such as Hezbollah in south Lebanon or Hamas in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, did not fall under the summit's censure, because they say they are fighting against Israeli occupation."

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: Islamic harmony is nowhere near all-encompassing

The Islamic cohesion was slightly marred by Turkey, which clings to its rapprochement with Israel, commentator Tomas Avenarius writes today in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung. He says: "Even though the spirit of community and cohesion was lauded in the highest terms at the Islamic conference in Teheran, Islamic harmony is nowhere near so all-encompassing as to leave Muslim leaders without an opportunity of clashing vociferously. That was why Turkish President Suleyman Demirel packed early, leaving before the assembled Muslim kings, princes and heads of state met to exchange fraternal parting kisses. He did so because criticism of Turkey's military cooperation with Israel had grown too harsh, preferring to make an early departure before this criticism could be leveled officially."

Turkey's reasons are pragmatic, not doctrinaire, Avenarius writes: "Turkey would prefer not to share fairly the waters of the Euphrates and the Tigris and this poses an economic threat to Syria and Iraq. Turkish control over the sources of both rivers could trigger conflict between Arabs and Turks. If that ever happens, there will not be much friendship involved, regardless of the much-vaunted fraternity of the Muslim community. Interests are still a more powerful bond than vague references to overriding considerations."

FINANCIAL TIMES: Mr. Khatami's standing has been enhanced

An analysis today in the British newspaper Financial Times suggests that Iran's gain in prestige benefits mostly its moderate faction and not its Islamic fundamentalist leadership. A Financial Times writer says: "This week's Islamic summit in Tehran has given a strong boost to Iran's new President Mohammed Khatami and showed Iranians the welcome they can expect on the world stage if they eschew harsh anti-Western rhetoric." The analysis says: "It is Mr. Khatami, rather than Ayatollah Ali Khamenai, Iran's spiritual leader whose international and domestic standing has been enhanced."

SUEDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: The trouble with EU expansion is that exact criteria for admission have not been agreed upon

The Luxembourg EU summit meeting's outcome is foreordained, Andreas Oldag comments today in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung. He writes: "European Union heads of state and government will agree to go ahead with membership negotiations for five Eastern European states, and Cyprus. A Europe conference will also be arranged so that the rejected candidates -- Romania, Bulgaria, Lithuania, Latvia and Slovakia -- are not left isolated on the edge of the future Europe. The trouble with EU expansion is that exact criteria for suitability for admission to the union have not been agreed upon, nor has the readiness of the candidates for membership been checked more closely."

Oldag writes: "EU prognoses on economic trends in Poland and the Czech Republic are optimistic. Both countries are seen as safe bets for admission. Of course the current economic crisis in Prague does reveal that the economy is based on wobbly foundations. Both Poland and the Czech Republic still have many state corporations, which are hardly likely to be able to stand up to the pressure of competition in the internal market."

GUARDIAN: Turkey's hopes look forlorn

But, writes Martin Walker in an analysis in London's The Guardian: "Turkey's hopes of eventual membership in the EU looked forlorn last night as European leaders canceled a planned dinner with the Turkish prime minister, and the host of today's European summit publicly accused Turkey of torturing dissidents."

FINANCIAL TIMES: The row over the euro club could disrupt the summit

The summit is likely to be disrupted by disagreements over a single European currency, says Financial Times writer Lionel Barber in an analysis. He writes: "Unless a compromise is reached, the row over the euro club could disrupt the two-day summit, the centerpiece of which is the EU's plans for enlargement to ten former communist countries in Central and Eastern Europe."