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Western Press Review: NATO And Kosovo Top Concerns

  • Anthony Georgieff
  • Don Hill

Prague, 5 August 1999 (RFE/RL) -- The Western press aims a flurry of comment at NATO and the Balkans, and considers an array of other topics.

The Washington Post looks back at last week's international summit on the Balkans and issues a plea for protecting cultural treasures. "With so much urgent humanitarian work to be done, the claims of heritage have trouble getting a hearing," says a Post editorial. Since the end of the war over Kosovo, the newspaper says, reports are surfacing of UCK forces vandalizing Serbian Orthodox cathedrals and ancient monasteries.

The editorial says that during the war, and even before it, Serbian authorities presided over what the editorial calls "systematic cleansing" of "six centuries of Muslim Ottoman rule." The newspaper concludes with this appeal: "In the wake of such targeted destruction of a culture, [historic marks of heritage] ought not be forgotten."

Acceptance by NATO ambassadors yesterday of British Defense Minister George Robertson's nomination to be NATO secretary general, elicited comment from a variety of Western news publications. The International Herald Tribune's (IHT) staff writer Tom Buerkle perceives Robertson's anointing as confirmation of a harbinger in NATO doctrine. Writing from London, Buerkle says: "The North Atlantic Treaty Organization signaled its future direction [yesterday] by approving [Robertson], a man who has promoted the cause of European defense cooperation while maintaining the closest of ties with [the U.S. government]."

Frankfurter Rundschau commentator Jochen Siemens observes that Britain leaped first out of the gate in a one-sided race for the NATO job. Here's how Siemens calls the first lap: "After it became evident that [German] Defense Minister Rudolf Scharping would not be the next NATO secretary general, a job that he probably could have had, the British wasted no time. Within 24 hours, they were claiming the job for one of their own. And cleverly too: Their own defense minister, George Robertson, is someone to whom the other NATO countries can hardly object. Nobody disputes that he has the technical expertise required for the job, not to mention the experience to meet its difficult diplomatic and negotiating requirements."

The Times of London concurs with the IHT that the secretary general appointment corresponds to NATO's likely new direction. NATO has undergone what a Times' editorial calls "a dual transformation" in, first, being able to accept a NATO skeptic, and, second, in having deliberately collaborated in fighting a war. The newspaper says: "Until recently, it would have been unthinkable for the post to go to a member of Britain's Labor Party, which was committed to unilateral nuclear disarmament and suspicious of NATO. Until this year, not only had NATO never fought a war; the whole point of its Cold War doctrine of deterrence was to prevent one."

The British newspaper says the defense minister is a good choice for a strategic job in transition. In The Times' words: "He combines steadiness under fire and because he is as Atlanticist as he is European, a cooler head than (that of Prime Minister Tony Blair) when it comes to fitting the infant European Defense Initiative firmly within the North Atlantic Alliance.

Information, in Denmark, provides a different perspective on the assignment. It says in an editorial that the smaller countries of NATO usually receive such appointments as accomplished fact. Here's how Information describes the process: "The stuff of which the decision-making procedure consists would fit on the agenda of a psychology conference. Usually, the big countries' leaders make phone calls to each other, and agree on a candidate that the smaller states can only discuss as a fait accompli."

The Danish newspaper's editorial approves of Robertson, however, because of the skill it says he demonstrated in persuading Great Britains fusty defense establishment to accept what Information calls: "lesser, more mobile, and flexible armed forces and combat-ready units, prepared to participate at short notice as peacekeepers in flash conflicts."

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in the U.S. South and other publications carry a commentary from Poland by Cox newspapers senior writer Joe Murray, who is touring Central Europe. Murray quotes a Warsaw political editor as saying: "Ten years ago it was a very clear situation. We were good. They were bad. It was very simple. Of course now it is more complex. Now we have capitalism, and you must think about money. Under communism, it was not important."

In his own words, Murray writes: "Under communism, the people of Poland had their problems. Out from under communism, the people still have problems. The difference is ... well, everything's different."

From Athens, Evangelos Antonaros, correspondent for the German newspaper Die Welt continues a series of commentaries on the case of Abdullah Ocalan, imprisoned leader of the Kurdish Workers' Party (PKK). Ocalan has called for an end to the movement's armed struggle against Turkey, and Turkish Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit has flatly rejected negotiations.

Even in the face of reports in the Kurdish news agency DEM that the PKK council has decided to follow the call, Antonaros observes that, in his phrase: "Doubts are growing in Turkey that Ocalan, who has been imprisoned since his arrest in Kenya in February, remains in a position to influence PKK fighters." Antonaros says two scenarios have emerged as the most likely motives behind Ocalan's appeal and the PKK' reaction. One is, he writes, "PKK fighters, pushed into a corner and despairing at Turkish advances, are desperate." He says the other is this: "The PKK is coolly getting the message across that it is far from being defeated, and can only be silenced through negotiations."

A northeast United States regional newspaper, the Boston Globe, turns an editorial spotlight on erstwhile antagonists former UN weapons inspector Richard Butler and Iraqi ruler Saddam Hussein. The newspaper says that Saddam may acquire nuclear weapons during the absence of U.S. inspectors from Iraq. If this occurs, the editorial says, then ending "the inspecting and monitoring of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction last December may become the most perilous failing of U.S. foreign policy in the 1990s -- and the most unpardonable act of appeasement by the UN Security Council."

The newspaper says that Butler has publicized a story of Saddam's bluffing and UN waffling that makes UN Secretary General Kofi Annan look, in the editorial's words, "foolish or disingenuous." The Globe says: "Butler's Cassandra-like warning about Iraq had better be heeded soon. Independent inspectors must return to locate and destroy all of Saddam's weapons of mass destruction, whether chemical, biological, or nuclear."