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Western Press Review: Comment Covers Diverse Topics

  • Don Hill

Prague, 27 January 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Western commentary fails to find a single topic on which to focus. Commentators examine issues from U.S. diplomacy in the Caspian Sea region to the UN Security Council's choice of a new chief weapons inspector in Iraq.

WASHINGTON POST: Clinton's pipeline strategy is in trouble

Columnist David Ignatius writes in The Washington Post that the U.S. administration of President Bill Clinton is not doing as well as it thinks and claims in its maneuverings in the Caspian Sea region. Ignatius says this: "The Clinton administration continues to make happy talk about how well it is playing the new 'Great Game' of energy politics in the Caspian region. Meanwhile, the centerpiece of that strategy -- a set of pipelines that would transport oil and gas to Turkey -- appears to be sagging."

Ignatius writes also: "The Russians have played the pipeline game harder than the administration expected -- all the way to fighting a bloody war in Chechnya, in part to secure access routes for their pipelines. And America's friends in Ankara, Baku and Ashgabat may have been paying lip service to U.S. diplomacy -- telling our visiting president what he wanted to hear and then making side deals with Moscow. A sign that Clinton's pipeline strategy is in trouble came Monday, when the Turkish Energy Ministry announced that it had failed to reach agreement with Azerbaijan and Georgia over terms for the so-called Baku-Ceyhan oil pipeline. That's the U.S.-backed plan to link Azerbaijan's capital of Baku, on the Caspian, with the Turkish Mediterranean port of Ceyhan."

Ignatius concludes: "Russia has put some potent chips on the table in this game of pipeline poker. Our friends in Turkey and neighboring states might reasonably ask whether the United States really intends to match Russia's escalation -- or whether we're just making a loud but ineffectual bluff."

NEW YORK TIMES: The international community lacks the determination to rebuild an effective arms inspection system

On Iraq weapons inspection, The New York Times expresses disappointment over the choice of Hans Blix to head the new UN inspection team. In an editorial, the newspaper calls Blix a man of unquestioned integrity but one too willing to accept bland assurances from people like Saddam Hussein. The choice of Blix, in the words of the editorial, "is a disturbing sign that the international community lacks the determination to rebuild an effective arms inspection system in Iraq. Mr. Blix is a man of unquestioned integrity and tact. But he seems unlikely to provide the forceful leadership needed to keep Saddam Hussein from cheating on his arms control obligations and building fearsome unconventional weapons."

The editorial states its judgment this way: "Mr. Blix may be an unavoidable choice, but the problem of Iraqi weapons development is not going to go away. The United States and its European allies may later regret that they were not more energetic in enforcing Iraq's disarmament obligations."

FINANCIAL TIMES: Blix will need continued UN Security Council support

In contrast to the U.S.'s New York Times, Britain's Financial Times welcomes the proposal to assign weapons inspection in Iraq to Hans Blix. The selection of Blix, says a Financial Times editorial, is a sign of welcome progress. But, in the editorial's words: "The new chief arms inspector will need continued [UN Security] Council support to have a chance of success. Every step on the way to disarming Baghdad will prove an enormous challenge. First, pressure must be put on Iraq to allow the return of inspectors."

The editorial also says this: "Another hurdle Mr. Blix has to overcome is to resist political pressure when he picks his staff and decides on the key tasks Iraq must fulfill. The United States and UK will insist on tough commissioners and strict disarmament demands. Russia, China and France, meanwhile, will want him to be more lenient towards Baghdad. If the Security Council is serious about resuming inspections in Iraq, its permanent members have an obligation to allow the chief inspector to make the professional judgment on the staffing of his agency and on Baghdad's weapons."

AFTENPOSTEN: Tony Blair is a refreshing wisp of air in international left-of-center politics

The Norwegian daily Aftenposten, in an editorial, calls British Prime Minister Tony Blair "a refreshing wisp of air in international left-of-center politics." Aftenposten compares Blair to the late U.S. President John F. Kennedy. Aftenposten says the comparison, in the editorial's words, "holds true not only regarding his skillful tackling of the media society, but also regarding the meanings he has instilled in New Labor."

DIE WELT: The change has become too rapid

German commentator Inga Michler writes from Davos, Switzerland, in Die Welt that many people believe that what some call the "new economy" means an end of worldwide economic recessions. She asks these questions: "Has the era of perpetual growth begun? How will the new economy transform the traditional social structures? What values will survive in a globalized world?"

The world's mighty, wealthy, and wise -- gathering today in Davos for the World Economic Forum -- will spend hours of high-priced time and millions of high-flown words seeking to answer those questions, she says. In the commentator's words: "A production factor that had been given little attention up to the 1970s has developed unimagined powers of growth in the past decades -- knowledge. It is available ever more cheaply and in ever larger quantities, not least of all because of the Internet. Mankind's stock of knowledge is estimated to double every five to six years. The result is a chain reaction of innovations, a new era of rapid industrial expansion."

Michler also writes this: "In the 80s, the economic forums in the small Alpine town were a sort of global Rotary Club with hereditary seating. Today, hardly any of the participants can be certain of belonging to the illustrious circle in another couple of years. The change has become too rapid, the international competition has become too great for the companies."

FRANKFURTER RUNDSCHAU: Putin has evidently already mastered the narrower issue of the Commonwealth of Independent States

While the powerful in Davos try to master world economics, acting President Vladimir Putin of Russia evidently already has mastered the narrower issue of the Commonwealth of Independent States, or CIS, the Frankfurter Rundschau's Karl Grobe writes. The commentator says this: "Putin has convinced the presidents of the countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States to commit to Moscow's policy line and also announced a union between Russia and Belarus immediately after the close of the CIS summit in Moscow."

Grobe says Putin used a series of small conferences with leaders of the CIS to cement his own image as a leader. The CIS summit itself lasted a mere three hours, the writer notes. As Grobe puts it: "Putin found common cause with the Central Asian CIS states in the fight against international terrorism, extremism and separatism." In Grobe's words: "After the conference, [Uzbek President Islam] Karimov thanked Russia as the one power which could foil the geopolitical plans of the supporters of extremism and terrorism. Karimov also said he was pleasantly surprised at the choice of Putin to chair the CIS council of presidents, and wished him luck in the upcoming election for Russia's presidency."

There may have been a note of irony in Grobe's closing comment that: "Economic issues such as the CIS countries' mutual debt and the breakdown of trade among member countries evidently were not discussed at the summit conference."