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Western Press Review: Kosovo, Mideast Dominate Western Commentary

  • Anthony Georgieff
  • Don Hill

Prague, 8 July 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Western press commentary continues to look at Kosovo, today focusing on the prospects for Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's survival. But the Middle East attracts attention also. Individual commentators also examine German-Ukraine relations, the reheating of Russian-Chechen affairs, and the Kurdish question in Turkey.

WASHINGTON POST: The West should do whatever it can to help Serbs deliver Milosevic

The Washington Post says in an editorial that Milosevic may be in trouble but that it's too early to write him off. The newspaper says: "With Serbian forces defeated and out of Kosovo, it might seem odd to speak of a threat posed by their leader, Slobodan Milosevic. But U.S. General [and supreme NATO commander] Wesley Clark, an authoritative source, warns against complacency."

The editorial says: "Mr. Milosevic is on the defensive. But he retains considerable resources with his control of the secret police and his skill at dividing, intimidating and buying off his opponents."

The editorial concludes: "General Clark said, referring to Serbia's crimes against the people of Kosovo, 'That wrong has to be faced. It has to be openly acknowledged by the Serb citizenry, by their leadership, by the church and others.' Delivering Mr. Milosevic to the international [war crimes] court in The Hague will be an essential step in that process. The West should do whatever it can to help Serbs who understand that requirement."

AFTENPOSTEN: The Serbs still have a chance to influence their own fate

The Norwegian daily Aftenposten also raises the question, "Will Slobodan Milosevic be able to survive politically?" In an editorial, the newspaper says: "The pattern is familiar from many other crises: At the beginning of a military conflict, the population braces up behind its leader, only to turn against him when the conflict ends in defeat."

Aftenposten contends: "In the past, however, Milosevic has shown he has mastered well the art of survival. If a leader is judged by his abilities to hold on to power, no one can deny Milosevic's excellence. Still, if what counts most is his ability to improve the life of his people, Milosevic is a disaster."

The editorial concludes: "The Serbs still have a chance to influence their own fate. By standing up and removing their leader, they will be making the first step necessary for their re-admission into the international community."

INFORMATION: The Kremlin has an obligation to find a solution for Chechnya

Another Scandinavian newspaper, Denmark's Information, urges its readers to keep an eye on the southern Russian republic of Chechnya. Information says: "While the attention of the international community has been attracted by the Kosovo war, there has been a considerable escalation of tensions in another of this world's hot spots, Chechnya."

The editorial continues: "Nothing suggests that the Russians and the Chechens are about to reach some form of a compromise either. The meetings between the Kremlin and the Chechen leaders are being regularly postponed, and there are reasons to believe the situation in Chechnya is going to deteriorate before the Russian elections." It says: "The Kremlin has an obligation to cooperate in finding a solution for Chechnya," and warns: "The alternative is chaos, and neither the Chechens, nor the Russians will benefit from it. Conflicts in the Caucuses have an unpredictable capacity for spreading rapidly."

WASHINGTON POST: Western generosity toward the Iranian president increasingly is misplaced

A former Middle East specialist with the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) says in a commentary published by The Washington Post that the West is giving Iran's President Mohammed Khatami too much credit as a force for moderation.

The analyst, Reuel Marc Gerecht, writes: "Slowly but surely Iran's clerical regime is collapsing. The recent arrest of 13 Iranian Jews on charges of espionage is an ugly reminder that the fall is likely to be neither pretty nor peaceful. By attacking their own helpless Jews, the ruling mullahs vicariously strike at larger, more dangerous targets -- Israel, the United States and secular democracy," which he calls "the most pernicious Western idea gaining ground in the Islamic Republic."

Gerecht says: "These arrests ought to encourage (the West) to reassess the moderation and mission of (Khatami, who) so far has escaped severe criticism for Iran's increasing internal repression." The commentary argues: "Though serious differences divide the president and the revolutionary leader, Western generosity toward the Iranian president increasingly is misplaced."

The former CIA specialist insists: "As more liberal dissidents, minorities and disenchanted clerics find themselves harassed and jailed by Iran's hard-liners, we in the West should be cautious in seeing Khatami as a good man who would do better if he could."

DIE WELT: Ukraine is able to stabilize itself

Two commentators in the German newspaper Die Welt, writing from Berlin and Kyiv, contend that German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's current trip to Ukraine isn't likely to succeed in its principal nominal goal. The writers, Gerhard Gnauck and Wulf Schmiese, say that Schroeder's mission is a tricky one and his prospects of success are bleak. Schroeder's coalition partners, the Greens, are demanding the impossible. So are his own Social Democrats. They want him to persuade Ukrainian leaders to opt for gas- or coal-fired power stations, rather than new nuclear power stations.

The writers say: "The consultations between the German and Ukrainian governments are not just a matter of atomic energy. The agenda [also] includes economic cooperation." They conclude by saying that " a country where political developments since 1991 have by no means been the worst but whose economic position is dramatic, is able to stabilize itself."

NEW YORK TIMES: Mr. Barak has set an ambitious agenda

The New York Times praises Ehud Barak's conduct during his first few days in office as Israel's prime minister. The newspaper says: "(Barak) is acting like a statesman. With an eloquent inaugural speech Tuesday and plans for a quick round of meetings with Arab leaders before visiting President Clinton next week, he seems committed to reviving the stalled quest for Mideast peace."

The newspaper's editorial adds: "Mr. Barak has set an ambitious though appropriate agenda. Peacemaking is sure to be difficult. Israelis and Arabs alike will have to make painful compromises on sensitive issues. But Mr. Barak is right to embrace the challenge and deserves strong American support."

WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE: Netanyahu presided over three of the most peaceful years in Israeli history

The New York Times often represents what U.S. readers consider a "liberal" viewpoint, at one pole of the U.S. political spectrum, while The Wall Street Journal often occupies the other. On Barak's deftness and his failure of his predecessor, Benjamin Netanyahu, The Wall Street Journal Europe differs dramatically.

It says in an editorial: "If you're looking for simplistic political analysis, there's no better place to find it than in the ink wasted in recent days over the formation of Israel's new government. The conventional wisdom, from which scarcely a single departure can be found, runs something like this -- Netanyahu was simply a bad man who hated Arabs and drove the Middle East peace process into a ditch, (and) now that he's gone, the dovish Ehud Barak will have an easy time setting things straight.

"But if Bibi (Netanyahu), by contrast, was such a hawk, how can his critics explain the fact that he presided over three of the most peaceful years in Israeli history?"

INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE: Kurdish identity must be recognized

Turkish commentator Mehmet Ali Birandi argues in a commentary published by the International Herald Tribune that Turkish public opinion may be softening toward the country's Kurdish population. Birandi says Turkish public opinion is changing dramatically in the wake of the trial of Kurdish rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan. Ocalan was found guilty of treason and sentenced to death.

The writer says: "For the first time, some of the more prominent establishment figures openly are stating that (Ocalan's) execution would have a negative impact on Turkey's long-term interests."

Birandi writes: "Another sign of change is that some prominent people known to be close to the state are declaring loudly that the Kurdish identity must be recognized."

The writer concludes optimistically: "For the first time, the heart of Turkey is beating with hope for a real peace."