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Western Press Review: President Clinton Gleans Condemnation And Some Praise

  • Jolyon Naegele

Prague, 3 September 1998 (RFE/RL) -- US President Bill Clinton's travels and travails attract editorial comment on both sides of the Atlantic today.

LOS ANGELES TIMES: President Clinton's ill-conceived trip demonstrated an old and important lesson

Jim Mann in an editorial in the Los Angeles Times, entitled "Clinton's Russia Trip Ill-Timed at Best", comments: "President Clinton's ill-conceived trip to Moscow is inadvertently demonstrating an old and important lesson: There's a distinction between foreign policy and presidential travel. You can have one without the other.... Watch or listen to Clinton's current trip to Russia, and you can't help but question the wisdom of his decision to go there now."

The commentary continues: "Those who defend the current trip say that canceling it would have dealt a heavy blow to Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin. But Yeltsin is a spent force anyway. Clinton's one last embrace of Yeltsin can't do much good for American interests."

WASHINGTON POST: A hybrid national economic system has prevailed, and failed

The Washington Post's Jim Hoagland in a commentary published in today's International Herald Tribune writes: "Asked what he thought of Western civilization, Mahatma Gandhi said it sounded like a good idea and should be tried sometime. So it is with Russian capitalism. The political and financial upheaval that greeted Bill Clinton in Moscow this week represents the death throes of a hybrid national economic system that has prevailed, and failed, in Russia since 1991. That system is undergoing piecemeal destruction as painful as it is necessary..."

The commentary continues: "The ineptness Mr. Yeltsin has shown in inflicting pain on the public while protecting tycoons has undermined his chances of staying in office until the end of his term in 2000.... Mr. Yeltsin's government has always refused to open the oil and gas sector on commercially viable terms to foreign firms. That was the telling, and vita, flinch in Moscow's refusal to come to terms with global markets. Balancing on the brink of disaster, Moscow must now accept substantial foreign ownership in this sensitive area and show the world that it finally gets capitalism."

IRISH TIMES: The breakthrough became possible only with the arrival of the US president

The Irish Times (Dublin) today praises the US president, who visits Ireland today, for his role in the Northern Ireland peace process.

Mary Holland in a commentary entitled "Clinton's efforts still vital for North peace" remarks: "Even before he touches down at Aldergrove airport this morning President Clinton's visit to Ireland has had a dramatic effect. We have been told - and there is no reason to doubt the reports - that the momentous events of recent days are the result of a great deal of "political choreography" by the US administration, in co-operation with the British and Irish governments."

The commentary goes on: "Gerry Adams's statement that the violence of the past 30 years 'must be for all of us now a thing of the past, over, done with and gone'; the announcement that David Trimble has invited the Sinn Fein leader to a round table meeting at Stormont on Monday; judicious leaks that Martin McGuinness is to work with Gen John de Chastelain's body on decommissioning: taken together these constitute the most important developments in the peace process since the referendums in May...." Holland writes: "All this is more remarkable, given the events of the summer, Drumcree and the tragedy of Omagh. The fact that these have drawn politicians closer in implementing the Good Friday agreement is due to a more realistic understanding by all sides of the problems involved. This has come about only with the passage of time. We have all needed space to learn. In this process, the support of the President of the United States has been crucial. There has been a great deal of criticism of Bill Clinton's visit this time around. He arrives on these shores badly wounded politically, both by the Monica Lewinsky affair and by the bombings in Sudan and Afghanistan.... I share the sense of disappointment and bewilderment which most thinking people feel about these issues and understand the indignation felt by those who will take part in protests against US foreign policy."

And she concludes: "But I also believe there are very many people alive in Ireland, and further afield, today who would be dead were it not for President Clinton's commitment to the search for peace in Northern Ireland. At the very least, it would have taken a great deal longer to move the IRA to the point of calling a ceasefire and the whole process would have been at even greater risk of breaking down.

The point is worth making because in recent weeks, as President Clinton's reputation has become increasingly tarnished, there has been a tendency to write down his contribution. It's been put to me that, surely, much of what has happened in terms of Washington's involvement in the search for peace was due to the clout of Irish-American politicians, or the influence of certain key advisers in the White House....But the realpolitik of the situation is that it was only with the arrival of a president who was prepared to become actively engaged that the breakthrough became possible..."

LA REPUBBLICA: This surreal meeting concludes in confusion and futility

Rome's La Repubblica comments: "In the Kremlin... the phantom of an impish young woman in a beret wanders among the graves of Lenin and Stalin: Monica. On the other side of the fateful square stands a people on the edge of bankruptcy and civil war, between desperation and courage. But in this fortress, from the very heart of Russia's history, the President of the United States of America speaks not of peace, politics or economics, but rather about her....This surreal meeting in Moscow ... concludes as expected, as we fear: in confusion and futility."

CORRIERE DELLA SERA: The American president appears to be a prisoner of the sex affair

Milan's Corriere della Sera is of a similar opinion: "The summit did not solve the riddle that burdened Clinton and Yeltsin about America's leadership and the future of Mother Russia. And that is not only because Clinton came to Moscow without money or ideas for an ally in need. And not even because Yeltsin gave the impression of having lost control of the situation. Rather it was because the American president appears to be a prisoner of the sex affair. Of the three questions posed by US journalists, two concerned Monica Lewinsky."

OUEST-FRANCE: Clinton understood that people in misery will be a factor of instability

The mass circulation regional French daily Ouest-France, based in Rennes, comments today: "Since Russia is in the center of the former Soviet galaxy, because it is a nuclear power and a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, there is no question of it dissolving itself as the unfortunate Zaire is doing. The current crisis forces those who help Russia to be far more demanding than they have been until now. It is the same as with developing countries! But money is not everything. Clinton understood that the frustration of a people brought down in misery will be a factor of instability. It was necessary to recall, and this he did in Moscow, that a market without a safety net for the poorest and without rules of the game only obeys the law of the jungle."