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Western Press Review: From Israel To Taiwan

  • Alexandra Poolos

Prague, 22 July 1999 (RFE/RL) -- There is a mixed bag of topics in the editorials and commentary from the Western press today. Subjects range from the peace agenda of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak to the role of the United States in Taiwan's current diplomatic dispute with China.

NEW YORK TIMES: Barak has already made two mistakes

In The New York Times, veteran columnist William Safire writes about Ehud Barak's debut as Israel's prime minister. Barak has vowed to propel the Middle East peace process forward. He has set a 15-month deadline for peace agreements with Syria and the Palestinians. Safire says one of the first positive steps Barak made toward realizing this colossal agenda is to arrange for U.S. President Bill Clinton to take less of a role in the negotiations. Safire says the future U.S. role is to "be a facilitator, not mediator." "Israel," he says, "needs an ally more than a broker."

But Safire says that Barak, "the former commando who looks remarkably cherubic," has already made two mistakes: "One was saying, 'We do not intend to drag our feet for another three years,' which sounded like a gratuitous shot attack at a predecessor Benjamin Netanyahu whose necessary corrective made possible Barak's current lionization in Washington."

Safire says Barak's other mistake was to select 15 months as his deadline for a final agreement. Safire asks: "Why the odd number? Why not a year, or 18 months, or no deadline at all?" He says 15 months creates pressure to come to an agreement shortly before the next U.S. presidential election, presumably when campaigning U.S. Democrats will be -- as Safire puts it -- "panting for peacemaking handshakes on the White House lawn." Safire says that scheduling an "October surprise" is too clever by half.

BERLINGSKE TIDENDE: Barak will need a strong friend in Washington

Denmark's major daily Berlingske Tidende takes almost the opposite stance. In an editorial published today, the paper contends that Barak needs the U.S. if his Middle East peace plan is to succeed.

The editorial says: "In just a few weeks after he stepped into office, Israel's new Prime Minister Ehud Barak has managed to re-establish the close relationship with the U.S." The newspaper says the U.S. government will play a central role in implementing Israel's ambitious peace agenda, especially regarding Syria. It says the talks with the Palestinians will also require a great deal of outside help and guidance. "Ultimately," the editorial says, "Barak will need a strong friend in ... Washington in order to help himself."

Therefore, Berlingske Tidende says, it is no surprise that the deadlines Barak has set will expire in October 2000, shortly before the U.S. presidential elections. It says U.S. President Bill Clinton also has a strong interest in helping Barak. If Clinton helps Barak achieve these peace accords, the newspaper concludes, then Clinton will, indeed, have a good ending to his presidential career in foreign policy.

INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE: The commission must have authority to act on behalf of the EU

In today's International Herald Tribune, Roy Denman -- a representative of the European Commission in Washington, D.C. -- critiques the task facing the European Commission's president-elect Romano Prodi. Denman says Prodi will "need to play a major role in re-establishing the credibility of the European Union's institutions" from a "blundering bureaucracy" to "a government, open, efficient, squeaky clean and responsive to the needs of citizens."

Denman says that among the challenges facing Prodi and his new government will be convincing member states that the commission must "negotiate for Europe with a single voice. ... If member states fail to give the commission authority to act on behalf of the EU, Europe will not be able to keep its major role."

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: The mood is upbeat in favor of the euro

In today's Sueddeutsche Zeitung, columnist Oliver Schumacher says that the euro's recent ascent on the international market is an indication of a stronger future European economy.

Schumacher writes: "Only a week ago, it seemed certain that the euro was due to fall still further. Nearly all foreign currency dealers predicted one-to-one, that is to say, the euro to the dollar. Only a few days later nobody wanted to know anything about it: Europes single currency improved in a single day by 5 pfennig."

"The latest fluctuations in the course are surely not final. Possibly it may decline again in the next few days. The turbulent beginning of the week does, however, show: the euro is by no means as weak as many speculators would like. Since the stock markets can make a tidy profit even from falling rates, many have disparaged the single currency for their own ends ... "

Meanwhile, Schumacher says, the mood is upbeat in favor of the euro. He says it can no longer be ignored that the boom in Euroland is again on the ascent. The outlook seems favorable, he says, that Europe in the year to come can reduce the gap between the boom state of America. "Such prospects," Schumacher writes, "strengthen the external value of the euro: A strong economy results in a strong currency."

WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE: Taipei cannot negotiate anything from a position of nothingness

The Wall Street Journal Europe says today that the U.S. has failed in its lawful obligation to defend Taiwan. The paper accuses the U.S. of "reinforcing" Beijing's open threats to use force against the island.

The newspaper says: "China's saber-rattling is dismissed simply as a reaction to provocative remarks by Taiwan's President Lee Teng-hui to the effect that the island can't negotiate successfully with Beijing unless the two sides meet each other on an equal state-like level. Washington has offered no rebuke. On the contrary, in a gesture almost certainly meant to underline official sentiment, Mr. Clinton rang Chinese President Jiang Zemin this weekend to assure him that the U.S. fully backs Beijing's one-China policy."

The newspaper says it is becoming increasingly clear that President Lee spoke when and how he did because Taipei has been under heavy pressure from the U.S. -- applied chiefly by Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia Stanley Roth -- to begin reunification with Beijing. The newspaper asks: "How Taipei could negotiate anything from a position of nothingness apparently does not concern Mr. Roth."

INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE: China is pushing both sides on a collision course

In the International Herald Tribune, analyst Ralph A. Cossa also comments on the U.S. role in the conflict between China and Taiwan. Cossa is executive director of the Pacific Forum CSIS, a non-profit foreign policy research institute in Hawaii.

Cossa writes: "Mr. Lee's words have strained already tense relations between Taipei and the Clinton administration, which is inclined to see this as an attempt to capitalize on uneasy Chinese-U.S. ties and on rising congressional sympathies for Taiwan."

The United States, Cossa says, would have little choice but to come to Taipei's assistance in the event of an unprovoked attack by China, but he says Washington will react negatively to perceived attempts by Taiwan to force America, needlessly, to take sides.

But Cossa ultimately faults Beijing for the current diplomatic crisis: "China should see that its actions, including a steadfast refusal to give Taiwan any international breathing space, push Mr. Lee to take positions that keep both sides on a collision course."

(Anthony Georgieff and Dora Slaba also contributed to this report.)