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Western Press Review: Kosovo, Europe-U.S. Strains

  • Anthony Georgieff

Prague, 10 March 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Commentators on both sides of the Atlantic take long, critical looks at turbulent relations between the United States and Europe, among members of NATO, and between NATO, Serbia and the province of Kosovo.

In Denmark and the United States, leading newspapers urge that NATO act on its threat to use force should Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic continue to reject a key provision of a western peace plan for Kosovo.

BERLINGSKE TIDENDE: All interested parties should keep quiet behind the American-engineered plan

Denmark's Berlingske Tidende, Copenhagen, says in an editorial: "If Slobodan Milosevic [again] refuses to allow NATO to form a peace-making corps [in Kosovo] the alliance should pursue its commitment to use military force."

The editorial says: "[Some] European diplomats had already complained they were not consulted by Washington. Russia came up with an alternative plan [for mediation]. Instead, all [interested parties] should keep quiet behind the [American-engineered] plan that is being discussed in Belgrade. Its acceptance, however, will not be an easy task."

WASHINGTON POST: If the agreement doesn't require Serb forces to cease their campaign of terror it won't last long

The Washington Post criticizes both the United States and NATO for lacking a credible policy on Kosovo. Under the ironic headline, "Modest Assaults Only, Please," The Post quotes U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen as saying that Milosevic will violate his agreement with NATO if he permits -- Cohen's word -- "massive" assaults upon innocent villagers in Kosovo. The Post says: "So now we know. It's okay for Serb dictator Slobodan Milosevic to violate the agreement he signed with NATO just a few months ago. It's okay for his Serbian troops and police to engage in assaults upon innocent villagers, as they have been doing systematically for the past several weeks, and to send thousands more fleeing into the cold mountains. It's just not okay for those assaults to be massive -- however NATO chooses to define that term."

The Post concludes: "In the end, pressure on the Kosovars coupled with inducements to Mr. Milosevic may produce a temporary agreement. It might even allow NATO leaders to congratulate themselves on NATO's 50th anniversary. But if the agreement doesn't require Serb forces to cease their campaign of terror and withdraw fully from Kosovo, it won't last long. And for NATO, the first 50 years might also be the last, at least as a credible organization."

WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE: The United States should not send its troops to Kosovo

A third voice appears in the Wall Street Journal Europe. Representative Tom Delay, a leader of the Republicans who control the U.S. Congress' lower chamber, the House of Representatives, writes in a commentary that U.S. involvement in Kosovo threatens U.S. resources without commensurate hope of U.S. gain. Delay says: "The United States should not send its troops to Kosovo for a dangerous, open-ended and ill-defined peacemaking mission." He writes: "President [Bill Clinton's] justification for intervening in Kosovo [is difficult to understand]. Such [confusion] is simply unacceptable when American lives are being put in harm's way. America should recommit itself to securing its own defense first before sending troops abroad to build nations upon foundations of sand. The United States is playing with a scorpion in the Balkans, and it is only a matter of time before America gets stung."

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: Mutual understanding grows only slowly

Delay's worry that the United States will be involved in Europe more than is good for its own interests runs counter to a view presented by commentator Stefan Kornelius in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung. Kornelius found the United States overbearing and overinvolved from Europe's point of view. His commentary appeared under a headline, "Anger Across Europe at Big Brother Across the Atlantic."

He wrote: "The superpower is throwing around its weight and -- worse -- its ignorance." The commentary cited: "The execution of two Germans, [the LaGrand brothers], an acquittal in the case of a Marine pilot whose jet sliced through a gondola cable in Italy, killing 20 skiers, and punitive tariffs on European exports in a trade dispute over bananas." It continues: "These are the issues which preoccupied many Europeans [last] week -- and why millions of them are angry at the United States. You are unjust, these people are saying, and their wounded pride is demanding redress."

But, he said, the difficulties stem also from a lack of understanding of the United States by Europeans. He concluded: "What does all this mean in the case of the LaGrands, the ski gondola disaster or the banana war? The United States is irreplaceable for Europe, and Europe is irreplaceable for the United States, but mutual understanding grows only slowly. And red-hot anger can quickly destroy it."

WASHINGTON POST: The leaders need to address unattended divergences

Washington Post columnist, Jim Hoagland, appearing today in the International Herald Tribune takes a similar approach. Hoagland also cites what he calls "the widening gulf between the self-images and aspirations of the United States and Europe." Hoagland says, "[This] emerges about daily now in disputes over cashmere sweaters, and bananas, the human costs of U.S. warplanes barreling over Alpine ski resorts, and the [ineffectiveness] of allied diplomacy in the Cold War's long aftermath." He says: "The leaders need to address where these unattended divergences will take the trans-Atlantic community. They do not need to fight over bananas and cashmere, or over the [gondola] tragedy, or celebrate triumph in the Cold War. They need to come together to understand and overcome the broad psychological changes and divergences that their common victory is producing."

NEW YORK TIMES: The responsibility for the mistakes was not Ashby's alone

The New York Times says in an editorial today that the acquittal by a U.S. military court of Marine Corp pilot Captain Richard Ashby in the Italian ski gondola disaster is open to misunderstanding. The Times says Ashby "may well have been flying his plane too low, too fast and in the wrong place. But the responsibility for those mistakes was not his alone. That blurring of individual accountability in no way diminishes the responsibility of the U.S. military. Washington must generously compensate the victims' families. The Pentagon must also make sure that other pilots do not misinterpret the Ashby verdict as a license for the kind of indifference to safety rules portrayed in the trial testimony."

The Times says also: "President Clinton rightly declared last week that America would [in Clinton's words] 'unambiguously shoulder the responsibility for what happened.' He should live up to those words by offering substantially increased compensation without delay."