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Western Press Review: Yeltsin Sidetracked, Iraq Defiant, Clinton Victorious

  • Joel Blocker

Prague, 6 November 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Western press commentary touches on the future prospects of Russia's President Boris Yeltsin and Iraq's latest defiance of the United Nations. There are also continuing assessments of the results of Tuesday's U.S. elections.

FRANKFURTER RUNDSCHAU: Yeltsin's health is probably in a worse state than officially reported

Two Frankfurt-based German newspapers today discuss the implications of yesterday's ruling by Russia's Constitutional Court prohibiting Boris Yeltsin from running for a third term as president. In a commentary in the Frankfurter Rundschau, Karl Grobe says that "it is doubtful whether the ailing Yeltsin will last the distance until (the end of his second term in) 2000. Officially," Grobe adds, Yeltsin "is suffering from bronchitis and fatigue. In reality, his health is probably in a far worse state."

The commentary goes to say that "both politicians in Moscow and influential regional politicians favor (what is called) the Primakov Gambit, whereby 69-year-old Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov would handle the day-to-day business of government and function de facto as vice-president. But," it adds, "the post of vice-president was struck from the constitution in 1993 and Primakov's powers could be revoked by Yeltsin at any time."

Grobe notes that a State Duma commission is currently considering impeaching Yeltsin. But he says that "impeachment is not expected to make much headway" because a two-thirds majority is needed in the Duma. "Neither Duma deputies nor regional representatives," he points out, "are interested in early elections."

FRANKFURTER ALLGEMEINE ZEITUNG: Attention will be more and more focused on Yeltsin's successor in the Kremlin

The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung says that "Yeltsin is no longer the pivotal point of Russian politics" In an editorial, the paper writes: "Probably (Yeltsin's) state of health had helped make. ..a third presidential term improbable. But the ruling by the Constitutional Court in Moscow now makes it impossible for him to be nominated (again)."

The editorial continues: "Yeltsin could now easily react to (the court decision) by saying that the law has triumphed over feelings and passions. It is not even certain whether he wants to retain his protocol duties until his term expires in the summer of 2000."

It concludes: "Yeltsin has already been forced to end his daily political responsibilities....In the future, domestic attention will be more and more focused on his successor in the Kremlin. And on that score, we are still likely to be surprised."

NEW YORK TIMES: UN arms inspection system approaches death

Turning to Iraq, two U.S. commentators assess Baghdad's most recent challenge to the UN. In the New York Times today, columnist A.M. Rosenthal considers "the UN arms inspection system in Iraq (as) near death." He writes: "Even if Saddam Hussein lifts his new bans on inspection imposed three months ago, Iraq and its friends at the United Nations have so eviscerated the system that there is no realistic hope it can be revived, with or without bombing, except as a thin facade."

Rosenthal's commentary goes on: "These realities are held secret at the United Nations because so many bureaucrats and member nations share responsibility for what is happening. Some countries, like Russia and France, eviscerate quite openly; others, like the United States, use the hidden knife of apathy. During election campaigns, we don't bother to talk about it."

The commentary concludes: "I do not know how, when or if arms inspection can be repaired without obliteration of Saddam and his regime. And I do not know when Americans will realize that the next terrorist explosion in their country might suffocate a million people, and therefore is worth talking about, even during a political campaign."

WASHINGTON POST: U.S.'s purpose in Iraq should be ousting Saddam

In the Washington Post yesterday, foreign-affairs columnist Jim Hoagland said that the U.S.'s "purpose in Iraq should be ousting Saddam." He wrote: "Saddam is delighted to be able to plunge Washington periodically into diplomatic bickering with France and Russia over inspections and...sanctions....The halts in weapons inspections distract the Clinton Administration from what should be more serious attempts to deal with Saddam as the international war criminal and self-avowed enemy of the U.S. that he is."

Hoagland urged that the U.S. supply weapons to those Iraqis who want to resist Saddam, noting that President Bill Clinton signed into law last week (Oct. 31) the Congress' Iraq Liberation Act. He argues that the weapons should be supplied quickly because their delivery "will put the U.S. on the side of those who would end Saddam's international wars by ending the permanent war he has declared at home."

The commentary concluded: "That has to be the American purpose in Iraq, not the open-ended maintenance of international sanctions and arms control regimes that Saddam can bend to his unholy purposes."

WALL STREET JOURNAL: Voters understood the Republican party's record only too well

Commentators are still mulling over the results of the U.S. elections held earlier this week (Nov. 3). In it second lead editorial on the subject in two days, the conservative Wall Street Journal Europe draws what it calls the election's "lessons for Republicans." The paper writes: "Running against a brain-dead Democratic Party and a scandal-plagued presidency, (the Republicans have) gained no seats in the Senate and, incredibly, lost seats in the House of Representatives. Quite a feat," adds the WSJ. "How did they do it?"

The editorial answers in part: "The Republican leadership thought conservative voters would roar down to the polls to punish Bill Clinton. But that was before the most highly motivated Republican voters started talking a few weeks ago about staging a strike to punish congressional Republicans for their sell-out (to the Democrats)."

The WSJ notes that, "in their wisdom, voters did not return control of the the Democrats." But it adds: "Republican leaders (in Washington) blame Tuesday's losses on voters who didn't appreciate the party's record over the past two years. We think they understood only too well."

WASHINGTON POST: Nine lives are all even Bill Clinton gets

Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne, Jr. says the vote "promises to transform (U.S.) politics in the next two years." He writes: "That voters think there should be a final two years of the Clinton presidency is the first big matter the election decided."

He continues: "The voters also told Republicans in Congress that their agenda is too thin to rally support outside their most loyal precincts....The Republicans bungled the impeachment issue (repeatedly). And then the Republicans...(also) botched October's budget negotiations."

Dionne concludes: "The largest challenge (now) is to President Clinton (who) emerged with a ninth life after Tuesday. But...many Republicans have still not given up on impeachment, and nine lives are all even Bill Clinton gets."

ECONOMIST: Clinton still comes back laughing

The current issue (dated Nov. 7) of the British weekly Economist carries a lead editorial calling Clinton a "lucky man." The magazine, which has more than once called on Clinton to resign, now says: "You can try to put the man down, load him with inquiries, show him to be a liar and a philanderer --and still he comes back laughing."

The editorial goes on: "The next political year, with the presidential race of 2000 looming ever-larger in everyone's mind, will not be as pundits expected. Instead of a limping president keeping his distance from the Democratic Party, there may well be a re-energized leader with his troops more or less sympathy and defiance."

It sums up: "Could anyone have predicted it? One man, at least: the Incredible Rebounding President, whose career will leave in the history books a trail inscribed in rubber."