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Western Press Review: Confusion Reigns In Russia, Reconciliation In South Africa

  • Joel Blocker

Prague, 3 November 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Western press commentary today covers a variety of international subjects. They range from Russia's continuing financial crisis through Iraq's new defiance of the United Nations and a slow-down in the Mideast peace process to South Africa's attempt to come to grips with its past.

IRISH TIMES: Things are likely to get worse before they get better in Russia

Discussing the Russian government's adoption of a new economic strategy over the past weekend, the Irish Times says that "day by day Russia's economic circumstances are changing for the worse, as new uncertainties assail its political leadership."

The paper writes further in an editorial today: "Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov has announced an economic plan emphasizing tax cuts, price controls for selected goods and credits for ailing industries and agriculture. Money will be printed to pay wage arrears. The plan is an interim measure, which has not gained the confidence of negotiators from the International Monetary Fund."

The editorial continues: "Mr. Primakov is hardly in a position to organize substantial reforms in the system of government so as to make the budget credible, as the IMF demands. Tax collection has become prey to competition between the industrial magnates and Mafia who profited so enormously from the privatization of state assets and is a very dangerous occupation indeed."

The IT sums ups: "Things are likely to get worse before they get better in Russia. The effects will not be confined within its own borders."

FINANCIAL TIMES: This government will do little more than muddle through

Britain's Financial Times is also concerned with what its sees as Primakov's failure so far to rein in Russia's so-called "oligarchs." In its editorial, the paper says: "(Primakov) has avoided the tough economic measures that might have upset any powerful interests. The government will concentrate instead on supporting domestic industry and banks, and paying off wage and pension arrears..."

The FT calls this a "stop-gap plan, born of political expediency and compromise. It may tide Russia through for a few months," the paper adds, "but eventually must end in high inflation, or in price controls and goods rationing."

The editorial concludes: "It is now clear that this government will do little more than muddle through. A credible economic program will have to wait for a vigorous new president, able to push through vital reforms....But for there to be any chance of this happening, (Russian President) Boris Yeltsin, now physically unable to rule, must first resign."

NEW YORK TIMES: Military action in Iraq may be needed

The New York Times today discusses what it calls "Iraq's Audacious Defiance." The paper writes in an editorial: "Emboldened by its past successes in curtailing UN arms inspections, Iraq has now virtually banned all monitoring efforts....This contempt for (UN) Security Council resolutions has spurred even previously equivocal Council members like Russia, China and France to condemn Baghdad's decision and demand that Iraq comply in full with all resolutions."

The NYT editorial goes on: "Until early this year, Washington consistently backed the UN inspection program with the threat to use force, the only language that seems to move (Iraqi leader) Saddam (Hussein). But White House resolve weakened last Spring and Washington responded meekly when Iraq halted surprise inspections in August."

The editorial adds: "Whenever Saddam senses hesitation he moves to gain advantage, and Washington is now dealing with the predictable consequence of its desire to avoid another confrontation with Iraq. The threat of Iraqi chemical and biological weapons is too grave to treat exclusively as a diplomatic matter, as the White House now seems belatedly to recognize. If diplomacy backed by the threat of force does not budge Saddam, military action itself may be needed."

LE MONDE: Today, Israelis and Palestinians alike would have been helped by Yitzhak Rabin

France's daily Le Monde discusses the aftermath of the Israeli-Palestinian agreement reached after nine days of arduous negotiations at the Wye Plantation in Maryland late last month. The paper says "the negotiations may have been laborious, but the accord's implementation (so far) is calamitous."

The editorial continues: "The compromise reached at the Wye Plantation was a natural follow-up to the (1993) Oslo accords, signed by (former Israeli Premier)Yitzhak Rabin. Last Saturday, hundreds of thousands of Israelis publicly commemorated the third anniversary of his assassination (by) a Jewish extremist belonging to an ultra-Right whose ideas are represented in the (current) government of (Benjamin) Netanyahu."

Le Monde concludes: "Yet the Prime Minister could find nothing better to say on the day of the (commemoration of Rabin's murder) than to reiterate all his objections to the Oslo agreements...Today, Israelis and Palestinians alike would have been helped by Yitzhak Rabin."

BALTIMORE SUN: The stakes are still high --but the potential of the Wye summit never matched those stakes

In the Baltimore Sun yesterday, a commentary by U.S. Mideast specialist Phyllis Bennis was bluntly titled, "Why Wye Won't Work." She wrote: "Wye understandings have (already) hit the skids. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu canceled his cabinet's ratification vote, thus derailing implementation even before it began."

Her commentary continued: "But it's hard not to wonder whether that matters. It's hard not to wonder whether, despite the intense, personal involvement of President Clinton, King Hussein, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, CIA director George Tenet and others, last month's Wye summit ever held the real potential to move the parties closer to real peace in the region."

Bennis went on: "Wye's central decisions will not help the Palestinians win back their occupied land, and will not provide Israelis with their definition of security." Then she summed up: "The Wye talks created an air of urgency --but unfortunately one reflecting only the desperation of a photo-op driven (U.S.) presidency, not the urgency of holding the key to real and lasting peace. The stakes are still high --but the potential of this summit never matched those stakes."

LOS ANGELES TIMES: South Africa moves ahead thanks to elevated moral leadership

Three North American papers discuss South Africa's attempts to come to terms with it bloody past. In an editorial yesterday, the Los Angeles Times asked: "How do former enemies overcome a legacy of assassinations, massacres, bombings, torture and bloodletting? How do victims make peace with killers?" It answered: "In the new South Africa, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission encouraged full disclosure, holding all, white and black, accountable for violence and offering the balm of amnesty in exchange."

The LAT continued: "Credit for this undertaking goes to President Nelson Mandela, whose unassailable moral stature set the tone....He chose to lead without rancor, obsessed not with the injustices of the past but with the possibilities of the future. In other deadly internal conflicts around the world, from Rwanda to Kosovo, that elevated moral leadership is lacking."

The editorial also said: "There's still hard work to come: Rulings on thousands of applications for amnesty remain to be made. But with the (release late last week of the) commission's report, the nation moves ahead."

GLOBE AND MAIL: None of the people who used to run South Africa will face trial and punishment

Taking a different stance, Canada's Globe and Mail daily describes as "damning" the report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The paper writes today in an editorial: "Many of the people who used to run South Africa, and not a few who now do, were participants in or stood silent during the commission of the most serious crimes. They are criminals. And none of them will face trial and punishment for it."

The editorial also says: "This is the deal South Africa has made with its past: Those who came forward and agreed to speak to the Truth Commission about what they did during a generation of dirty war received amnesty. Those murderers now walk free....(That does not) look like justice."

But the paper adds: "(If) most of the senior members of the apartheid South Africa government and some of the people in (Mandela's African National Congress) should be in jail, these are (nonetheless) cases where discretion and forbearance are the soul of justice."

WASHINGTON POST: The report deals with the past and seeks reconciliation

In a commentary for the Washington Post, a member of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission says the report "will lay nothing to rest." Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela (writes: "(The report) appears at a time when the public has become tired of the commission and skeptical about its benefits."

Her commentary goes on: "Very few people will appreciate the most valuable achievements of the...Commission. Perhaps the most valuable is trying to answer the question: How can a country move forward after it has had a history of oppression and violence, without destroying itself with revenge?"

She adds: "It is not surprising that attitudes to the commission are critical. This has been a pain-filled process for everyone....But the commission's report should be seen as part of dealing with the past and seeking reconciliation, even if such reconciliation will not come in this generation."