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Western Press Review: Yeltsin Address Draws Editorial Fire

  • Jolyon Naegele



Prague, 18 February 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Russian President Boris Yeltsin's state of the nation address yesterday has provoked editorial comment, largely critical, on both sides of the Atlantic.

FINANCIAL TIMES: Yeltsin should consider firing himself

The Financial Times comments: "Yeltsin needs to be told that the chief culprit for the failure to achieve growth is none other than himself."

The editorial says: "Tax collection remains poor, the state weak, officials corrupt and corporate governance grossly exploitative. Yet perhaps more important is simply a lack of confidence in the economy. For this the president's behavior bears much responsibility." The Financial Times adds that Yeltsin "demands results from his ministers that his own inconsistency makes impossible to deliver. Nobody supposed coherent Russian reform would be easy. But when the ruler is incapable of supporting any group of reformers whole-heartedly for more than a few months, it is nigh-on inconceivable. "

It says: "In his address, President Yeltsin insisted he would fire ministers who failed to secure growth. If so, he should, in justice consider firing himself, since his endless intrigues are what makes it so difficult for any group of ministers to succeed. His subordinates can not tell him this. Maybe, Michel Camdessus, the managing director of the International Monetary Fund, who is visiting Moscow, will dare to do so."

SALZBURGER NACHRICHTEN: Yeltsin created a climate of stagnation

Austria's Salzburger Nachrichten also comments on Yeltsin's address saying, "Even without the comparison with Bill Clinton's annual address, yesterday's speech by his Russian counterpart on the state of the nation looks like an alternative program. The once fellow-traveling reform czar Yeltsin plodded through his brief text and immediately created a climate of stagnation. Instead of sparking a fireworks of initiatives for economic growth, the concentrated mass of Moscow decision makers saw a tired and sullen Kremlin ruler abandoning his opportunities. To be sure even when healthy Yeltsin never shined with thought-through concepts. But now he lacks even a residue of energy to reform."

NEW YORK TIMES: Yeltsin's goals and pledges were ambitious

This view is not shared by Steve LeVine, commenting in The New York Times saying Yeltsin looked fit and spoke firmly in the 30-minute address". LeVine says, "The scale of Yeltsin's goals and pledges were as ambitious as he has made in the past." However, LeVine writes, "Apart from his own aides, few appeared to take Yeltsin's threat to form a new government too seriously."

WASHINGTON POST: Yeltsin's words seemed a cautious echo of past rhetoric

But David Hoffman, writing in The Washington Post, comments that "in his speech and a separate 65-page document, Yeltsin's words seemed a cautious echo of past rhetoric. Russia has been buffeted by the global financial crisis, which has caused many foreign investors to pull out of (Russia's) markets." Hoffman concludes, "Yeltsin's address was clearly designed to reassure jittery overseas investors that he plans no dramatic changes."

LOS ANGELES TIMES: His dazed image seemed to reflect the general malaise

And Carol Williams, writing in the Los Angeles Times, says, "The message transmitted by the Kremlin leader in his fifth and most lackluster annual address to the nation was one of fatigue as this country of 148 million slogs through a seventh year of insecurity since the dismantling of the Soviet Union. And as the increasingly reclusive Yeltsin read to the official assemblage in the Kremlin's Marble Hall and to state TV cameras, his distant, dazed image seemed to reflect the general malaise felt by many Russians who have come through a trying transition only to become confused about who they are and where they have landed."

The final attempts to resolve the international community's dispute with Iraq diplomatically before military means are resorted is food for commentary in the western press.

NEW YORK TIMES: The days for diplomacy would appear to be dwindling fast

The New York Times says in an editorial today: "With the approach of a new moon over Iraq next week, and the darkness it will provide for air operations, the days for diplomacy would appear to be dwindling fast. That is why Kofi Annan, the UN secretary general, is preparing for an urgent visit to Baghdad, and it is why President Clinton traveled to the Pentagon (yesterday) to issue his most explicit warning to Saddam Hussein that the United States will use military force if he refuses to allow unrestricted access to UN weapons inspectors.

"In these anxious hours it is important not to lose sight of what must be the common objective of diplomacy and military force, if it comes to that. Saddam must honor the agreements he made with the Security Council at the end of the Persian Gulf War to desist from the development of weapons of mass destruction and to destroy those he has as well as the means to make them. To insure that he does so, UN weapons inspectors must have unrestricted access to any site in Iraq.

"The Iraq crisis is neither more nor less than that. It is not about removing Saddam from power, as much as Republican congressional leaders would like to see that outcome of this latest confrontation." The New York Times editorial concludes, "The threat posed by Iraq and its arsenal of chemical and biological weapons is just too serious to set aside for another diplomatic accommodation." It says: "To do nothing in the face of Iraqi defiance will only embolden Saddam. The last time he believed the world was indifferent, he invaded Kuwait."

WASHINGTON POST: The negative consequences far outweigh any possibility of success

A U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency analyst, Charles Davis, in a commentary in The Washington Post today, writes that "the negative consequences far outweigh any possibility of success" of an attack on Iraq. "There is no assurance that such an attack will destroy Iraq's capabilities to produce weapons of mass destruction in the future; this makes it probable that we would have to carry out subsequent raids to again attempt to destroy them or that we must invade the country, as some newspaper columnists are calling for. Moreover, an air attack alone will not persuade Iraq to give up its arsenal."

He writes: "The negative consequences from a U.S. attack also could be disastrous for neighboring countries. Suppose our bombing were to destroy chemical or biological facilities? What guarantee do U.S. military forces and their allies in the region have that the fallout from that destruction will not adversely affect them on a much larger scale than did the destruction of the chemical weapons bunker in southern Iraq after the Gulf war?."

Davis says: "Short of such catastrophes, an air attack would undermine the U.S. position in the gulf." Davis calls for "a different strategy that recognizes that Iraq cannot be stopped from developing some weapons of mass destruction but that still inhibits their development -- without endangering our other interests." He says: "Two components for such a strategy would be for the UN Security Council to shut down Iraq's lucrative contraband coastal oil trade while increasing the amount of oil Iraq could sell under the current sanctions (so as to) expand the food and medicine available to the ordinary Iraqi population(thus) reducing the misery of the Iraqi people.

SCOTSMAN: A conflict could have unpredictable consequences

In Europe, an editorial titled "The last chance for diplomacy" in The Scotsman, published in Edinburgh, says: "President Clinton and Prime Minister Blair should keep their nerve." It goes on: "Many voices in America and Britain are calling for peace, and generally for honorable reasons. A conflict could have unpredictable consequences; people would certainly die; the cost would be high. The two leaders bear a great responsibility, therefore. They have a greater responsibility, nevertheless, to ensure we never reach this pass again. Ideally, Saddam should be destroyed. The least we can demand is that he never again poses a threat to the international community."

TIMES: Britain is right to join America on the dangerous road

An editorial in The Times of London says: "So long as Saddam remains in power, so long will any military action against Iraq, short of a full-scale invasion, lack the finality of victory. The impressive strength of parliamentary backing for the use of 'all necessary means' to force Saddam back into compliance with Iraq's obligations under the UN cease-fire resolution in 1991 should reinforce Tony Blair's conviction that Britain is right to join America on the dangerous road that, out of short-sighted political expediency or for lack of the military capacity, its European allies decline to tread."

EL PAIS: The Kofi Annan visit is the final card to avoid the phantom of war

Spain's El Pais, in an editorial today, describes UN Secretary General Kofi Annan visit to Baghdad next Friday as "the ultimate opportunity (and) the final card that diplomacy can play in convincing the United States to renounce a devastating attack on Iraq." El Pais says: "Annan is conscientiously preparing for his voyage, which is to determine which of the two sides, Baghdad or Washington, will give him motives for achieving their objectives. On the one hand, if Saddam Hussein is willing to comply without more distortions of the international mandate; on the other, perhaps, if Clinton understands that this also deserves some compensation. This debate will be the objective of the visit to Baghdad decided yesterday by the UN Security Council. It is the final card to avoid the phantom of war."

LE MONDE: The situation today is completely different from that in 1990

Paris' Le Monde comments: "The situation today is completely different from (that in) August 1990 as the Iraqi army marched into Kuwait. In legal terms, the armed intervention to liberate the emirate was covered by a UN Security Council resolution. Today there is not a single text that gives the green light for a return to force to disarm Iraq. In political terms what one has come to call the international community is no longer bathing in the quasi unity that prevailed after the fall of the Berlin Wall."

LA PROVENCE: We are in the last phase of diplomacy

France's independent, Marseilles-based daily La Provence says: "It seems we are in the last phase of diplomacy -- the last chance. Jacques Chirac has expressed France's determination to Iraq's foreign minister, demanding that Saddam Hussein gives in to the UN Security Council, but wants to avoid sending bombs or that women and children are killed. UN Secretary General Kofi Annan can head for Iraq with a clear mandate from the five permanent members of the Security Council to disarm the devilish machine The wind of hope is blowing, But as Chirac has stressed, 'time is running out.'"

NEUE ZUERCHER ZEITUNG: Now, it is said, the dictator's stocks of biological and chemical weapons are to be destroyed

Switzerland's Neue Zuercher Zeitung comments today: "The great probability that the Iraqi dictator will survive an attack has caused the (Clinton) Administration to change its argumentation. Until recently, a military attack was justified with the sole goal allegedly of forcing Saddam Hussein to abide by the UN resolutions. Now, it is said, the dictator's stocks of biological and chemical weapons are to be destroyed and the opportunity denied him of threatening his countrymen and neighbors with weapons of mass destruction."

IL MESSAGERO: The always preferable peaceful way does not appear probable

The Italian daily Il Messagero of Rome comments: "The always preferable peaceful way does not appear probable. At the moment Bill Clinton sees nothing else but war. The international community's attempt at diplomacy to give the Iraqi dictator one last chance of ever letting weapons do the talking does not go well with Clinton's uncompromising words."

JYLLANDS-POSTEN: Boris Yeltsin speaks the language of power

Denmark's Jyllands-Posten, published in Aarhus, comments today: "It is enticing to shrug off the Russian objections to a military action in Iraq. In the West, many perceive Boris Yeltsin as nothing more than the parody of a president. One should not overlook that no one seriously challenged him during his long illness undermining Russia's international position or its trustworthiness. If Russia is to continue to play a role on the world political stage, it is essential to demonstrate independence form the United States.

It is in neither China's nor Russia's interest to let Saddam Hussein in peace to continue to build up his arsenal of biological and chemical weapons. That a war could be necessary, Beijing and now Moscow too view in silence. Saddam only understands the language of power. Boris Yeltsin speaks this language. Otherwise, he would have disappeared from the Kremlin ages ago."

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