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Western Press Review: Ocalan, Malaysia, Iraq Are Under Discussion

  • Joel Blocker
  • Dora Slaba

Prague, 18 November 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Some Western press commentary today discusses the problems created by the arrest last week (Nov. 13) in Rome of Abdullah Ocalan, leader of Turkey's outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK). Other analysts comment on the diplomatic uproar at this week's Asian economic summit in Malaysia. But Iraq's new willingness to comply with United Nations demands for weapons inspection still attracts the bulk of press comment, particularly in U.S. and British newspapers.

WALL STREET JOURNAL: Asylum constitutes a dangerous legitimization of terror

The Wall Street Journal Europe says that "Europe should be rejoicing" over Ocalan's arrest. The paper describes the man known as "Apo" as the "leader of a bloody 14-year terrorist campaign against Turkey, a NATO country." But, the WSJ quickly adds, "Ocalan's PKK, with cells among the Kurdish diaspora throughout Europe, has quietly developed a capability to intimidate European governments."

The editorial goes on: "The PKK shrewdly appeals to traditional Leftist elements while exploiting deeply rooted anti-Turkish prejudices in Europe. Well-placed sympathizers on the European Left, such as the widow of the late French President Francois Mitterrand, have lent it legitimacy, obscuring its terrorist methods."

The WSJ also says: "Apo chose carefully in picking Italy as his country of destination after having been refused asylum by Russia.... Prime Minister Massimo D'Alema is a former Communist....He told parliament yesterday that, in effect, the door was open to giving Apo political asylum." If D'Alema does grant asylum, the paper concludes, "it would constitute a most dangerous legitimization of the kind of terror Ocalan specialized in."

FINANCIAL TIMES: Rome is left with two thoroughly uncomfortable options

Britain's Financial Times writes in its editorial today that "the Italian Government faces a terrible dilemma over (Ocalan's) arrest. Ankara's request for his extradition," the paper says, "and his counter-pleas for political asylum leaves Rome with two thoroughly uncomfortable options."

The paper points out that Ocalan is wanted on charges of terrorism in Germany as well as in Turkey. It says that "if he were extradited (to Turkey), his chances of getting a fair trial would inevitably be slim." On the other hand, the FT writes, "if he is not extradited, Italy will face the fury of a major trading partner and NATO ally..."

The editorial continues: "Turkey is scarcely in a position to lecture any other country on human rights, as the European Parliament has repeatedly pointed out in relation to its...war against the PKK...." The FT concluded: "Joschka Fischer, Germany's new Foreign Minister, suggested in Rome yesterday that Mr. Ocalan's presence there might be used as a first step toward a negotiated solution to the Kurdish problem. Though Ankara is unlikely to heed that advice, it would do well to think twice before rejecting it out of hand."

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: Ocalan is a murderer, not a diplomat

A commentary in Germany's Sueddeutsche Zeitung speaks of "Ocalan's Devilish Cleverness." Writing from Istanbul, Wolfgang Kodyl says that "at the first news (of Ocalan's arrest), Turkey rejoiced. But," he continues, "with each passing day that Ocalan...manages to extend his stay in Rome, the euphoria has become more restrained, sometimes almost verging on despair."

The commentary goes on: "The Turks may just have to live with not hanging --or having-- Ocalan for quite some time...because it is still far from clear whether the Italians will ever extradite Ocalan to Turkey, where he would likely face execution." "In the meantime," Kodyl adds, "the Turks may well have a second reason to feel chagrined. Ocalan's decision to travel to looking more and more like a brilliant gambit on his part --one that may succeed in getting him out of the corner in which he has been trapped since he was forced to leave his temporary sanctuary in Syria." But, Kodyl sums up, "Ocalan is a murderer, not a diplomat, and he belongs (in a court), not at...a negotiating table."

ZUERICHER TAGES ANZEIGER: A rule-of-law state, like Italy, cannot deny Ocalan asylum

Switzerland's Zuericher Tages Anzeiger writes today: "You could hardly imagine a more uncomfortable guest (than Ocalan) in Italy today. Rome is (after all) committed to cooperation with Ankara in fighting illegal immigration."

The paper's editorial continues: "But the Turkish Republic has never truly eliminated the ethnic and racist clauses in its constitution. (And) the Turkish Government risks alienating liberals at home who favor Kurdish self-determination or at least champion the recognition of (an ethnic) Kurdish identity....A rule-of-law state in the middle of Europe (like Italy) cannot deny an Ocalan asylum."

NEW YORK TIMES: America's interest in Asia is not to flatter embattled autocrats

In an editorial on Malaysia today, the New York Times congratulates U.S. Vice President Al Gore for "championing democracy" in blunt remarks he made Monday to Asian leaders meeting in Kuala Lampur. The paper writes: "Malaysia's Prime Minister, Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, is fuming, and his countrymen should relish every second of his discomfort.....Gore and other foreign leaders have used an economic summit meeting in Mahathir's capital to call for greater democracy and economic reform in Malaysia."

The editorial goes on: "Gore was especially effective in defending the cause of Anwar Ibrahim, Malaysia's former deputy prime minister. Anwar was jailed in September on dubious charges of corruption and sexual misconduct and is now on trial. Most Malaysians recognize the case for what it is, namely a political vendetta against one of Southeast Asia's most articulate and thoughtful reformers."

The paper notes that "(U.S.) Secretary of State Madeleine Albright made a point of visiting Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, Anwar's wife," and concludes: "Gore (and) Ms. Albright ...were right to be rude. America's interest in Asia is to encourage human rights and democratic change, not to flatter embattled autocrats."

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: The rebuke from Washington was not undeserved

Another view of Gore's comments in Malaysia is expressed by Andreas Baenziger in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung today. In a commentary from Kuala Lumpur, he writes: "'Disgusting,' 'unwelcome,' 'provocative' and 'irresponsible': undiplomatic language to be sure, but these are just some of the strong words used by Malaysian government spokesmen to describe (Gore's) controversial speech."

Baenziger continues: "Leaders who espouse 'Asian values' are not accustomed to visitors coming, criticizing them and saying so openly what has to be said: that the Asian crisis can best be overcome in a climate of political openness and transparency."

He adds: "Perhaps Malaysian leaders do feel genuinely hurt by Gore's surprisingly frank statements. After all, Malaysia is not Indonesia. Yet the rebuke from Washington was not undeserved: the entire Anwar prosecution, and the circumstances surrounding his detention, are distasteful."

Several U.S. and British newspapers continue to assess the implications of their governments' decision to abort air strikes on Iraq over the weekend after Baghdad expressed its willingness to welcome back UN weapons inspectors.

BALTIMORE SUN: It is wrong to accuse President Clinton of wavering

The Baltimore Sun wrote yesterday: "The build-up of forces to bomb Iraq had the desired effect at the last minute on dictator Saddam Hussein. He agreed to comply with United Nations' monitoring for weapons of mass destruction, on which he had reneged. The good-cop, bad-cop routine of (U.S.) President (Bill) Clinton, threatening destruction, and UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, seeking reconciliation, worked. Neither had a chance without the other."

The Sun continued: "It is wrong to accuse President Clinton of wavering. Calling off the attack at the last minute, when the credibility of an attack had succeeded, is precisely what the leader of the only super-power should do....(And) while the dictator's word has proved unreliable before, there should be no doubt that a recurrence would bring instant bombing..."

The paper concluded: "Tolerating an imperfect world is one of the burdens of leadership. Washington properly proclaimed limited and attainable goals, demanding concessions that could reasonably be met, and achieved what it set out to do. That is statesmanship."

WASHINGTON POST: The Administration shifted its strategy

However, The Washington Post, writing the same day accused the Clinton Administration of inconsistency toward Iraq. In an editorial, the paper said that "After Iraq booted the inspectors (out) in August, the Administration shifted its strategy from depriving Saddam of his weapons to maintaining economic sanctions on his regime....Now the Administration is back to championing access for inspectors as the most important goal and to deriding the efficacy of bombing."

The WP added: "Saddam Hussein has made clear that maintaining and acquiring nuclear, chemical and biological weapons are his primary goals....(And) unlike other tyrants today, he has also been willing to use such poison weapons....He will part with his weapons of mass destruction only when he is compelled to do so."

U.S. JOURNAL OF COMMERCE: It is still impossible to identify any direction for Clinton's foreign policy

In its editorial, the U.S. Journal of Commerce said that "the conflict over weapons inspections may obscure a broader problem for President Clinton as he struggles to finish his second term. After nearly six years of his leadership, it is still impossible to identify any direction for his foreign policy, or to determine the U.S. role in the world."

The financial daily went on: "The U.S. is at times the leader of an international coalition. At other times, it is a unilateral actor whose sanctions draw the disapproval of its closest allies."

It added: "There is a far greater sense of contradiction than connection in U.S. policies toward individual countries. The result has been a shabby patchwork for U.S. diplomacy and trade." And the J of C summed up: "The trouble is that Mr. Clinton has lacked what President Bush, in an unguarded moment, called 'the vision thing.' The Clinton foreign policy has been crisis-driven. Worse yet, it has been crisis-consumed".

DAILY TELEGRAPH: The Iraqi dictator will be very difficult to dislodge

"Topple Saddam" is the blunt title of today's editorial in Britain's Daily Telegraph. The paper notes that both President Clinton and British Prime Minister Tony Blair declared "earlier in the week (that) his overthrow was their ultimate goal...But," the editorial adds, "the past seven years have shown that the Iraqi dictator will be very difficult to dislodge."

The DT continues: "The British and American governments are right in proclaiming that the threat of force made (Saddam) back down over the weekend. But his flint-like hostility to the work of (UN weapons inspectors) means that (they) will never be able to complete the destruction of his biological and chemical arsenals."

The paper concludes: "During the latest confrontation with Baghdad, the Prime Minister, more than any other leader, has stiffened the resolve of the American Administration....In seeking to overthrow Saddam," it concludes, "and thus remove from power the greatest single threat to world peace, the two North Atlantic allies will need to draw deeply on the myriad ties that bind them."

FRANKFURTER ALLGEMEINE ZEITUNG: Air strikes are not necessarily effective

Germany's Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes in its editorial today: "In regard to Iraq, the U.S. and the UN are faced with a dilemma. Massive air strikes might at least have provided a temporary way out. They would have hit at and weakened Saddam's military and repressive machinery. But they would also have ended the UN's weapons inspection, which was so effective that the Iraqi authorities tried to drive the inspectors out."

The FAZ adds: "The continuation of a U.S. military presence (in the Gulf) is another part of an intimidation policy for which there is no alternative in the near future. And air strikes, it should be noted as well, are not necessarily effective in (destroying well-hidden) chemical and biological weapons."