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Western Press Review: U.S. Politics, China, Iran

  • Alexandra Poolos

Prague, 10 March 2000 (RFE/RL) -- The Western press continues to comment on U.S. politics after 16 primary elections on Tuesday left Democrat Vice President Al Gore and Republican Texas Governor George W. Bush, Jr. the probable presidential nominees of their parties. Our selection of commentary on the U.S. campaign evaluates the primaries so far and pays tribute to the two candidates who lost to Bush and Gore. There is also comment on China and Iran.

FINANCIAL TIMES: The primaries will shape the coming campaign

In Britain's Financial Times, columnist Philip Stephens writes that, although the outcome of the U.S. primaries may have been inevitable, they have left a mark on the election due November 7. He writes: "The primaries did matter. Even if the shocks and spasms were largely synthetic, they will shape the coming campaign. Mr. Gore swapped his Washington suits for the open-neck earth tones of [his native] Tennessee .... For his part, Mr. Bush has learned that elections require more than a war chest and a famous father [former president George Bush.]"

Stephens also says "we do not know who will win in November," but he believes the election will decide how the U.S. electorate feels about what the commentator calls "an important argument in contemporary politics." He explains: "The collapse of Communism has robbed us of the clean ideological divide of old, even if it was always more imaginary than real. But a world in which global markets are simultaneously multiplying individual opportunities and fast eroding the familiar security of local and national communities still has to decide on the role of government."

For Stephens, "Mr. Bush's [proposed] tax cuts speak to the view that [government] must stand yet further back from the people. Mr. Gore," he adds, "promotes government as essentially benign, the friend not the enemy of the individual. This election," the commentary concludes, "may be machine politics, but that is still a big choice."

NEW YORK TIMES: McCain and Bradley can still have influence on the U.S. political scene

A commentary in today's New York Times -- generally, pro-Democrat in its editorial stance-- says that although Republican loser John McCain and Democrat loser Bill Bradley have pulled out of the presidential race, they can still have influence on the U.S. political scene. The paper says that Senator McCain -- who suspended his candidacy, but did not endorse his rival Bush -- is in what it calls an "especially crucial spot." Because McCain made overhauling the country's campaign finance system his central theme, the paper says that he can continue to fight for this reform:

"McCain could use several means to keep alive his reform campaign even as a non-candidate, forcing Bush to back up his words with action. It is not clear whether campaign legislation has much chance for passage this year, but the Senator can continue pressing for change in Congress, around the country and at the Republican Convention this summer."

WASHINGTON POST: Democrat Bradley broadened the national debate on many key issues

The Washington Post -- like the New York Times, usually pro-Democrat in its choices for national office -- carries an editorial that praises Democrat Bradley for having broadened the national debate on many key issues. The paper says this: "[Bradley] reminded the country of the plight of people without health insurance. He promised to cut child poverty in half, so ending the shameful fact that it is currently double the rate in other rich nations. He called for gun control and campaign finance reform. He spoke passionately about race. In style, he seemed refreshingly anti-Clintonesque, appearing to offer gritty honesty in place of spin."

INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE: The U.S. must wait to see how open and democratic Iran will become

Comments on Iran and China today touch on possible reforms in both countries. In the International Herald Tribune, analyst Philip Bowring says that if Iran is now introducing reforms into its government, it is not necessarily moving closer to the U.S. He writes:

"Most Iranians have been angered by (successful) U.S. attempts to prevent Central Asian countries from using Iran as a conduit for oil and gas exports. Washington has promoted non-economic alternatives, even preferring to deal with the murderous, drug-financed Taliban in Afghanistan rather than talk to Tehran. There is [also] resentment of the intensity of U.S. efforts to deny arms to Iran, despite Iran's recent history of being invaded by a (Western-armed) Iraq and the proximity of a Pakistan with Chinese-supplied missile and nuclear weapon technology."

Bowring acknowledges that the U.S. has its own grievances against Iran -- notably, crimes against humanity committed in the name of revolution and Islam. He concludes that the U.S. must wait to see how open and democratic Iran will become before it can change its policies toward Tehran.

WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE: Mr. Khatami is not the great liberalizer

An editorial in today's Wall Street Journal Europe says that President Clinton should not assume that by loosening sanctions on Iran he is rewarding Iran for political liberalization. The editorial argues that while last month's parliamentary vote elected many allies of moderate President Mohammed Khatami, the Iranian leader cannot be considered as reformist as he has been portrayed:

"Mr. Khatami is not the great liberalizer he's often portrayed as being in the Western press. He has a close working relationship with 'Supreme Guide' Ali Khamenei, the arch-conservative who maintains effective control of the country. The new 'reformist' parliament, while now housing some members with liberal ambitions, is still dominated by people who anywhere outside Iran could reasonably be described as fanatics, including 11 self-confessed terrorists."

The editorial also says that this does not necessarily mean that lifting elements of the U.S. embargo against Iran is a bad idea. It writes: "A few bundles of carpets, jars of caviar, or packets of pistachios won't change history much one way or the other." What is dangerous, adds the paper, is to give the impression that Iran is being rewarded for what it calls "effectively doing nothing."

NEW YORK TIMES: By helping China in the WTO, lawmakers would not be endorsing Beijing's policies in other areas

An editorial in the New York Times urges the U.S. Congress to quickly approve legislation needed to smooth China's admission to the World Trade Organization, or WTO. The paper writes: "By helping China in the WTO, lawmakers would not be endorsing Beijing's policies in other areas, like human rights and Taiwan. They would be speeding the opening and reform of China's economy and subordinating Beijing's arbitrary authority in trade matters to the rule of international law."

The editorial goes on to say that it is important for Congress to approve the China trade legislation by the end of this spring, before the issue gets forgotten in the whirl of presidential campaign politics. If the issue is delayed until next year, the paper concludes, China might back off from some of the market-opening concessions it is now offering.