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Western Press Review: Commentary Focuses On Kosovo, Ocalan

  • Don Hill

Prague, 23 February 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Western press commentary today focuses mainly on the issues surrounding a possible peace settlement in Kosovo and the recent capture of Kurdish rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan.

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: A war on four fronts cannot be won

Stefan Kornelius -- commenting today in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung -- says U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright is trying to achieve at Rambouillet what envoy Richard Holbrooke did at Dayton. But he writes: "It must be painfully clear to Madeleine Albright right now that bringing peace to the Balkans is an arduous, not to say impossible, task." He goes on: "Unlike Holbrooke's mission, hers is burdened and may be doomed to failure because a war on four fronts cannot be won. It is a war on the Serbians, on ethnic Albanians in Kosovo, on fickle Europeans and on U.S. public opinion."

NEWSWEEK: Kosovo is not nearly the world's worst killing field just now

In the current edition of the U.S. weekly news magazine Newsweek, commentator George Will warns that if the United States sends American troops into Kosovo, it must be prepared to leave them there indefinitely. He says also: "The principle mandating -- or at any rate justifying -- involvement cannot be the general validity of demands for ethnic self-determination. That way lies international chaos and American exhaustion. Self-determination just for Kurds could destabilize a few nations. Neither can intervention be based on simple humanitarianism ... Kosovo is not nearly the world's worst killing field just now."

INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE: Kurdish nationalism could become an issue that forces people to choose sides

Author and international affairs commentator Robert D. Kaplan -- in an essay published today in the International Herald Tribune -- contends that the Kurds may play a pivotal role in future Middle East politics. Kaplan's thesis: "The (late) 20th century was dominated by the Arab-Israeli conflict. The early 21st may be dominated by tumultuous change in Turkey, Syria and Iraq, with the stateless Kurds playing the pivotal role. Kurdish nationalism could become the kind of issue -- like Palestinian nationalism -- that forces people to choose sides."

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: Intelligence services have failed to keep an eye on an adversary

Certainly, the Kurds have leveraged the significance of their position in Germany far beyond their numbers, editor and commentator Josef Joffe writes in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung. His discussion comes in the context of the sudden and unanticipated uprising of Kurds in Germany after the capture of rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan. Joffe writes: "Intelligence services which wrung their hands in despair at having lost their major threat when the Cold War ended have now failed to keep an eye on an adversary very much closer to home. PKK violence has, after all, long been a well-known fact in Germany, and the Kurdish guerrillas can be sure to have a next move in mind. If the German police and intelligence services were efficient, the PKK would no longer be in a strategic position to take an entire country hostage in the twinkling of an eye."

ECONOMIST: Kurdish nationalists are short of friends

The British magazine The Economist -- in its current issue -- urges the Kurds to recognize the realities written on the wall of European opinion. The magazine says: "The Kurds need to recognize that there is no political room in the Middle East -- at present or in the foreseeable future -- for an independent state of Kurdistan. For Kurdish nationalists, the Ocalan episode may have brought home that uncomfortable reality. It has shown (Ocalan's) Kurdistan Workers' Party ... how short it is of friends."

FRANKFURTER RUNDSCHAU: Ocalan�s trial will not remove the causes of the Kurdish uprising

A Frankfurter Rundschau commentary by Karl Grobe maintains that if the Turks believe their capture of Ocalan is a triumph that will solve most of their major problems, they should think again. The commentator says hardline nationalists and unpolitical citizens alike now seem to expect peace and quiet in the country's southeast. They believe the man responsible for 15 years of civil unrest will soon be brought to justice. Surely, this is a time to celebrate. Not really, writes Grobe: "The truth is that neither the trial nor the likely ensuing military victory by the Turkish army will remove the causes of the Kurdish uprising."

FRANKFURTER RUNDSCHAU: Iraqi dissidents are for once agreed

In another commentary, Grobe writes that a murder in Iraq finds Iraqi opposition factions curiously united. He says: "The various factions representing the Iraqi opposition are not renowned for agreeing with each other. A notable exception was provided by the assassination of Grand Ayatollah Mohammad Sadiq Al Sadr, the highest Muslim Shiite clergyman, and two of his sons on Friday. Iraqi dissidents are for once agreed that the murder can only have been ordered by the Baghdad regime. The crime appears to bear all the hallmarks of Saddam Hussein's secret services."

TIMES: This first summit breaks the ice

From London, The Times looks editorially at one of the British empire's former colonies, now split into hostile factions. The editorial finds hope in last weekend's unprecedented meeting of the prime ministers of India and Pakistan. The Times says: "This first summit in either country for a decade does -- as the Indian press has enthusiastically remarked -- break the ice." The editorial concludes: "Both countries went to the nuclear brink last summer. They know the costs of an arms race and that has persuaded them to join the world moratorium on testing. Until they (both sign on to a nuclear-testing ban), the sub-continent remains an unpredictable nuclear flashpoint."

WASHINGTON POST: The United States itself has some developing to do

U.S. commentator Fred Hiatt -- writing in The Washington Post today -- finds irony in (1) Vice President Al Gore -- who has been accused of campaign-finance irregularities -- leading an anti-corruption forum; and (2) the sanctimony of the United States in spotlighting corruption problems everywhere in the world except at home. Hiatt writes: "In between fund-raising calls this week, Vice President Gore will host the Global Forum on Fighting Corruption. Gore as conference chairman will seek to bolster the campaign against what in just the past few years has come to be seen as one of the world's greatest scourges, especially in the developing and post-Communist world. Gore as candidate will serve as an unspoken reminder that -- when it comes to money and influence -- the United States itself still has some developing to do."

Two leading newspapers -- one in the northeast U.S. and another in Germany -- focus commentary today on Russia's responsibility for its own sad state.

BOSTON GLOBE: Russia brought about its own financial and moral bankruptcy

In The Boston Globe, Sam Allis comments: "On slow afternoons, American foreign policy mandarins are fond of playing their favorite parlor game: Who lost Russia? The question is rhetorical; someone in Washington obviously did. But just who should be drawn-and-quartered for the breathtaking mess that is Russia today? George Bush? Warren Christopher? Strobe Talbott? None of the above. 'Russia lost Russia,' says Vladimir Ryzhkov, the impossibly young deputy speaker of the Duma, Russia's lower house of parliament." Allis writes: "Ryzhkov (stresses) such failures pale compared to the culpability of Russia itself in its own mismanagement. Russia brought about its own financial and moral bankruptcy. This point appears obvious but increasingly is lost amid the ugly Russian rhetoric building against the West."

DIE WELT: Disillusion has set in

Jens Hatmann comments today in Die Welt under the headline "Corruption Stems the Tide of Humanitarian Aid -- Russian Officials Pocket Billions." He writes: "Disillusion has set in among those who would like to help Russia and its 146 million people through the long, hard winter." He says 32.8 million Russians live below the poverty line. Wages are paid sporadically, if at all. And Russia's 1998 harvest was its worst in 45 years.