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Western Press Review: Kosovo 'Crossroad,' China

  • Joel Blocker
  • Anthony Georgieff

Prague, 3 June 1999 (RFE/RL) -- "Kosovo Crossroad" is how the New York Times describes this week's delicate diplomatic efforts to resolve the NATO-Yugoslav conflict. The notion is shared by many Western press commentators who today assess the chances of convincing Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic to agree to a peace plan worked out by the U.S., the European Union and, apparently, Russia. There is also some commentary on China, on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of the Communists regime's massacre of democracy-minded demonstrators in Beijing's Tiananmen Square.

NEW YORK TIMES: The peace plan is reasonable but fragile

In its editorial on Kosovo, the New York Times writes: "If intensifying diplomatic efforts produce a political settlement, military operations could end quickly, followed by the rebuilding of Kosovo and the return of ethnic Albanian refugees this fall. If Milosevic refuses to make peace, months of additional bombing are likely and Clinton and his NATO allies will have to decide soon whether to prepare for an invasion later this year."

The paper continues: "The peace plan proposed by the U.S., [the EU] and Russia is reasonable but fragile. Milosevic accepts many of the ideas in principle, including the presence after the war of an international security force in Kosovo and restoration of considerable autonomy for the province. But the plan will collapse if he is unwilling to accept ... the use of well-armed NATO troops as peacekeepers and the removal of Serbian army, police and paramilitary forces from Kosovo ... Milosevic must also begin a substantial and verifiable withdrawal of forces before NATO suspends bombing."

The NYT adds: "Russian forces should play a leading role in making Kosovo secure for the return of the refugees ... But hundreds of thousands of displaced ethnic Albanians ... will not return home unless their safety is guaranteed by a substantial number of soldiers from the U.S., Britain and France. NATO, it goes on, "has drafted a sound plan that calls for some 50,000 alliance peacekeepers, including 7,000 Americans. Coordination and command issues must be sorted out with Moscow, which seems to think Russian forces can operate independently in Kosovo."

LOS ANGELES TIMES: Diplomacy is preferred so long as the objectives set by NATO are met

The Los Angles Times says that "some signs from Belgrade are beginning to indicate that public opinion is being prepared for a back-down from the unremitting defiance of NATO that ... Milosevic has so long expressed. Diplomacy," the paper says, "remains the preferred method for settling the Kosovo crisis, so long as the just objectives set by NATO are met. [These include] the return of expelled Kosovars to their homes under NATO-led protection, restoration of the autonomy Kosovo once enjoyed and the withdrawal of nearly all Yugoslav [forces] from the province..."

The LAT editorial goes on to say that some "European leaders and American officials believe they [have detected] greater flexibility in Russia's position, [although] significant differences remain." It adds that a possible target date for a settlement could be June 18, when the Group of Seven, joined by Russia, holds a summit meeting in Germany."

The paper concludes: "Certainly we want diplomacy to succeed. But ... the fight NATO has been waging will be validated only when its core demands are accepted by Belgrade."

DAILY TELEGRAPH: A test of wills has entered a crucial phase

Britain's Daily Telegraph writes today that what it calls the Milosevic-NATO "test of wills...has entered a crucial phase." The paper's editorial says that "a deal acceptable to the West may emerge from [the current mission to Belgrade of Viktor Chernomyrdin and Martii Ahtisaari, the Russian and EU envoys]. If it does not," the DT warns, "NATO will be faced with the decision whether to supplement its combing campaign by assembling a ground invasion force..."

The editorial also says: "As weeks of air strikes have elapsed without forcing Yugoslavia to capitulate, the Alliance has gradually toughened its stance ... But past experience in Bosnia and Kosovo should have taught the West that Milosevic will ignore its terms unless NATO maintains the pressure on him. That," it adds, "may yet necessitate a ground invasion this summer."

The paper concludes: "We still have doubts about the willingness of Mr. Clinton to put American lives at risk. That makes the stiffening of European resolve all the more important.'

INDEPENDENT: A chasm still divides the sides

The British daily Independent carries a news analysis by Rupert Cornwell that argues "a chasm [still divides] the sides" in the Kosovo conflict. He writes: "NATO appears unshakable on its demands...for a [virtually full Serbian withdrawal from Kosovo] and that the allies provide the core of the peace force. [But] Belgrade wants the full 16,000 Serb forces provided for by the abortive cease-fire deal [with the West] of last October, and will at best countenance only NATO forces from countries that have not taken part in the bombing."

"So," asks Cornwell, "where do the Russians stand?" He notes that "on the record, Alliance diplomats say [Moscow] has been edging closer to NATO's position." But there are signs, he goes on, that there still "latent areas of dispute [between Russia and NATO] which a little scratching could easily expose. And in this field there are few more skilled practitioners than Mr. Milosevic."

The commentator cites "Chernomyrdin's [recent] talk of separate groups of Russian and NATO troops under separate commands [in Kosovo as] just one Russian-NATO fault-line for Mr. Milosevic to scratch on."

STUTTGARTER NACHRICHTEN: There is an indication that peace efforts are making progress

In Germany, which currently holds the EU presidency, some commentators ask whether Belgrade's recent letter to German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer signaling its approval of the G-8 peace plan can really be trusted. The Stuttgarter Nachrichten fears the ''message from Belgrade could be more than just another propaganda trick. The reactions in Western capitals were cautious, but hopeful," the paper notes in an editorial, which "could be an indication that peace efforts are indeed making progress. The alternative would certainly be a further escalation of the conflict."

NORDWEST-ZEITUNG: A diplomatic solution is overdue

The Nordwest-Zeitung, published in Oldenburg, argues in its editorial that "a diplomatic solution is overdue. After seven weeks of NATO air attacks on Yugoslavia," the paper writes, "the brutal expulsion of ethnic Albanians from Kosovo is still going on. One can hope," it concludes, "that the diplomats get a new chance now."

FLENSBURGER TAGESBLATT: Caution is most important in this phase of diplomacy

Another German daily, the Flensburger Tagesblatt, writes that "after 70 days of continuous air attacks, diplomats are now clutching at straws." Its editorial says: "Anything that signals a way out of military escalation should be welcomed. It seems almost a provocation that Western politicians are reacting so cautiously [to the possibility of peace]. On the other hand," the paper acknowledges, "a negotiated settlement has to be very stable, or else it would mock all the atrocities that have occurred in Kosovo. So caution is most important in this phase of diplomacy."

WASHINGTON POST: The power of the ruling class rests on historical lies and brute force

Turning to China, the Washington Post today entitles its editorial, "Lying About Tiananmen." The paper writes: "What is striking on this anniversary is not the by-now-familiar history of [the bloody crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in Beijing], but the regime's continuing inability to face that history. China's Communist dictators," it says, "revealed to the world that night [10 years ago], and perhaps for the first time to themselves, that nothing but armed force was keeping them in power. Their behavior since proceeds from that realization."

"Now," the editorial goes on, "in the days preceding the anniversary, the regime has staged another wave of arrests ... [And] the regime has done everything it can to erase and conceal the history of the massacres. Family members of victims were bribed and threatened to list their relatives' cause of death as car accidents; otherwise, in some cases, they could not receive the remains for a proper funeral."

The paper then addresses itself to China's future: One view, it says, suggests that "a civil society is rising that can help China move gradually from its Communist past to a more pluralistic future. Another view sees more cause for alarm in the regime's continuing intolerance of dissent ... If the Communist Party continues to squelch all competing voices, [more violence could result.] This is the dilemma," it concludes, "of a ruling class whose ideology has been discredited and whose power rests on historical lies and brute force."

AFTENPOSTEN: China has been overtaken by a new wave of nationalism

In Norway, the daily Aftenposten's John Sandvand comments today: 'Ten years after the student massacre on Tiananmen Square, China's relationship to the West is still strongly influenced by ... nationalism. In 1999, as like in 1989, China has fallen out with the West, the reasons this time being NATO's inadvertent bombing of its Embassy in Belgrade and accusations of years-old Chinese espionage against the U.S."

The commentary continues: "But while in 1989 Beijing's humiliated regime licked its wounds and began the long process of winning back its people's confidence, the situation today is different. Beijing's rhetoric is now directed against what it terms 'U.S. imperialism.'"

Sandvand adds: "China has recently been overtaken by a new wave of nationalism, encouraged by the Government .... The West," he concludes, "should be skeptical about believing that 'inevitable' democratic development in the world's most populous nation will eventually contribute to its own security and peace. The problem is that events in China today help the very forces that want to turn it into an even more anti-Western direction."

FINANCIAL TIMES: The Tiananmen massacre still haunts China's government and people

Britain's Financial Times says in its editorial that the Tiananmen massacre "still haunts China's government and people alike." The paper writes further: "While the country's leaders find it impossible to admit responsibility ... for many ordinary Chinese the event lives on as a symbol of an oppressive and capricious rule that bears no respect for human rights."

The editorial continues: "But since Tiananmen, some progress has been made toward a more civil society ... China still has a long way to go, but in their hearts, its leaders know that economic advance make political change inevitable in the long run ... [And] only when its political evolution is complete will China finally be able to come to terms with Tiananmen."

The FT also says: "It is in the world's interest that a stable China eventually be integrated fully into the world community. That," it concludes, "requires not just recrimination for past and present misdeeds, but encouragement on a journey that promises to be long and painful."