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Western Press Review: Indonesia, India, The Balkans Capture Press Attention

  • Don Hill

Prague, 25 May 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Western press commentary ranges today and on the weekend from Indonesia's leadership and Indo-Pakistani nuclear politics to Balkanization, Russian-U.S. relations, and other issues.

WASHINGTON POST: Mr. Habibie assumes office with two heavy burdens

The Washington Post today examines once more the aftermath of President Suharto's political demise in Indonesia. The Post says in an editorial: "Indonesia and other countries around the world will be watching closely as B. J. Habibie, newly installed president of the world's fourth-most-populous nation, today presides over his first cabinet meeting. Mr. Habibie is only the third president in Indonesia's 50-year post-colonial history, but he assumes office with two heavy burdens that could make his tenure brief. Mr. Habibie's first problem is Indonesia's months-old economic crisis. "

The editorial names his long association with "now-discredited ex-president Suharto" as Habibie's second burden, and says: "Some leading opposition figures, and even some members of Mr. Habibie's cabinet, are calling for a vote within a year. Other government officials seem to think Mr. Habibie can serve the full five-year term Mr. Suharto recently had awarded himself. Either way, Indonesians will be looking for early and meaningful signs of political reform, including a freeing of political prisoners, an end to press censorship and the legalization of peaceful political activity by a broad spectrum of parties and organizations. A clear commitment to a transition to democracy would give Mr. Habibie his best shot at overcoming his handicaps."

LOS ANGELES TIMES: The presidency may merely have a new face, not new policies

The Los Angeles Times urged in an editorial at week's end that President Habibie move quickly to hold new elections, The editorial says: "Indonesian President Suharto's dramatic departure from office leaves a crucial element of unfinished business." It concludes: "Indonesia is not accustomed to smooth transitions of power and the presidency may merely have a new face, not new policies. Unless Habibie holds elections by the end of the year, there will be trouble again in Indonesia."

INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE: Has the nuclear genie been let out of the bottle?

Turning to India's nuclear testing and its potential consequences, Ralph A. Cossa, executive director of Pacific Forum CSIS, a nonprofit foreign policy research institute in Honolulu, comments in today's International Herald Tribune: "Has the nuclear genie been let out of the bottle? Will the recent nuclear tests by India result in a new nuclear arms race? Will Pakistan soon follow suit and then North Korea, Taiwan and perhaps others? The answer to these questions will depend in large part on the strength of the global reaction to India's blatant act of defiance against the near-universal consensus against nuclear testing. Statements of regret or condemnation and even the selective application of sanctions will not be enough to pressure India to reverse course or to convince Pakistan and others not to follow India's lead. New Delhi, and those tempted to follow India, must understand that the consequences are both severe and long-term."

Cossa suggests that the United States and China offer Pakistan both a carrot and a stick.

He concludes: "The United States and China should consider jointly providing Pakistan with security assurances against this increased Indian threat. Mr. Clinton also should announce that a Pakistani commitment not to test will be sufficient to lift the current Pressler amendment restrictions against American economic and military assistance to Pakistan - an announcement that Congress must quickly endorse. Conversely, it must be made clear to Pakistan that if it does carry out a nuclear test it will face the same harsh, long-term consequences that confront India."

LOS ANGELES TIMES: Transfers of military technology by Russia and China violate international agreements

In a Los Angles Times commentary Saturday, Republican Representative Curt Weldon, chairman of the U.S. House of Representative's Military Research and Development Subcommittee, took a very different approach. China -- and also Russia - are part of the core problem, he wrote. Weldon wrote: "Escalating tensions between India and Pakistan should come as no surprise to the Clinton administration. Since the president took office, there have been dozens of reported transfers of sensitive military technology by Russia and China -- in direct violation of numerous international arms control agreements -- to a host of nations, including Pakistan and India."

The U.S. congressman wrote: "Now the Clinton administration has announced a get-tough policy, threatening to impose sanctions on India for testing its nuclear weapons. But what about Russia and China, the two nations that violated international arms agreements?"

INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE: The once promising Russian-U.S. partnership today looks wilted and wan

Washington Post commentator Jim Hoagland, published in today's International Herald Tribune, says that the United States in its dealings with Russia is mistakenly substituting charm for substance. Hoagland writes from Moscow: "President Bill Clinton insists he will not come to Moscow for a summit meeting with Boris Yeltsin unless the Duma ratifies the START-2 nuclear arms treaty. But President Clinton's attempt to revive the politics of linkage is backfiring. Russian-U.S. relations, adrift for months, now are dead in the water."

The writer says: "The once promising Russian-U.S. partnership today looks wilted and wan. The American president has not set foot on Russian soil in two years; recent summit meetings have been held in the United States or Europe. (U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine) Albright has not visited in a year. Russian opposition to U.S. policies in Iraq, Yugoslavia and elsewhere has grown more spirited as Mr. Clinton has concentrated on NATO expansion and improving ties to China as his strategic priorities."

NEW YORK TIMES: Milosevic comes up with one creative idea after another to keep himself in power

In Yugoslavia, Slobodan Milosevic once again is advancing his personal interests at the expense of his own people and regional peace, The New York Times editorialized Saturday. It said: "The Serbian leader has now essentially banned the voices he fears most, Yugoslavia's independent radio and television stations. He apparently believes that he can get away with it because the world is concerned with the growing conflict in Kosovo, and with trying to get Milosevic to agree to serious, internationally supervised talks there. But the media are the only voices in Serbia that ever challenge his nationalist assault on Kosovo. Preserving them is crucial for a settlement in Kosovo and to keep alive any hopes of democracy in Serbia." The editorial concluded: "Censoring the press was just one of Milosevic's recent activities. This week he also tried to stir up ethnic conflict in Montenegro and squash its new government, which bravely opposes his rule. Milosevic comes up with one creative idea after another to keep himself in power at the expense of his people. Most require propaganda. For Milosevic, controlling the media is critical to controlling his country."