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Western Press Review: U.S.-Russia, Kosovo, Other Topics

  • Joel Blocker

Prague, 9 June 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Western press commentators are still mulling over the results of last weekend's meeting in Moscow between U.S. President Bill Clinton and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Other comments cover a wide range of subjects, including the European Union's planned expansion to Eastern Europe, the apparent terrorist murder of a senior British military officer in Athens yesterday, and assessments of NATO's air war against Yugoslavia, which ended a year ago this week.


In a commentary for the International Herald Tribune today, columnist Flora Lewis says that many observers "were relieved that Presidents Putin and Clinton agreed to disagree on nuclear arms plans at their Moscow meeting." She adds that the two leaders "came to a very useful accord on disposing safely of 34 metric tons of plutonium which could be used in thousands of nuclear weapons and on a joint missile launch warning center."

For Lewis, "this is the kind of wind-down from the Cold War that makes sense. And," she adds, "it should be a caution to note how difficult and expensive even this limited aspect of backing away from the arms race is proving. Just getting rid of this excess plutonium will take more than 20 years and cost more than $6 billion, not to speak of dismantling weapons and shifting projects. The burden does not disappear when you are finished with the hardware."

The commentator is critical of a projected U.S. national missile defense, which she argues "would probably lead to an arms build-up with China, and then perhaps India and Pakistan, and could persuade Russia not to destroy missiles." For this and other reasons, she concludes that the two leaders' "agreement to disagree in Moscow may have been just as well."


Another of the International Herald Tribune's columnists, Reginald Dale, castigates Clinton today for what Dale calls his "preposterous" offer to Russia that it join the European Union. He writes: "Many Europeans were taken aback last week when Clinton appeared to offer Russia membership in [a] a club to which the United States, of course, does not belong. The door to the EU, just like that of the NATO, should be open to Russia, Mr. Clinton said."

Dale notes that Clinton made his surprise suggestion just before arriving in Moscow for talks with Putin, and just after attending an EU-U.S. summit meeting in Lisbon. He says that if Clinton "had asked EU leaders what they thought of his idea, they would have told him, as they have told others, that it is completely out of the question."

His commentary continues: "The EU has long made it clear that, for the foreseeable future, Russia is simply too big, too complex, and too backward to be considered for membership. The EU is having a hard enough time with its current plans to expand across the old Iron Curtain to include its immediate Central and Eastern European neighbors." He adds: "In the long-running debate over 'where Europe ends,' the line is currently drawn at the eastern Polish frontier, well short of Russia, which, unlike most of its former European satellites, has not actually applied for EU membership. Nor have Ukraine and Belarus, which are closer than Russia to the EU and have stronger cases for entry.


In a news analysis in its current issue (dated June 9-16), the British weekly Economist says of last weekend's Moscow meeting that it "helped clarify differences without resolving them." The magazine writes: "With no pretence to personal warmth, Presidents Clinton and Putin artfully finessed their differences over strategic issues, especially anti-missile defenses, in a way that enabled each to claim success and look good at home. But," the magazine goes on, "the gap between American and Russian views remains wide; the prospect of a diplomatic collision still looms under the next [U.S.] administration, which takes office next January."

The Economist's analysis goes on: "In a speech to the Russian Duma, Mr. Clinton tried hard to persuade the sullen legislators that he had their country's best interests at heart, and would not dictate to them -- in too much detail, anyway -- how to pursue those interests." The Economist says Clinton's speech drew only scattered protests, but not many plaudits either. In its words: "Among many Russians, by no means all of them Communists, suspicion of [U.S.] motives runs too deep for even a finely-crafted oration to root it out."


The Economist also publishes today a lead editorial urging the European Union to offer a firm date for membership to 10 candidate nations -- most of them from Central and Eastern Europe -- as quickly as possible. The magazine recalls: "Three years ago, President Jacques Chirac of France was telling Poland it would be in the EU in 2000. So would the Czech Republic, he hoped, and Hungary too. But now," the editorial says, "Mr. Chirac and the EU's other leaders have fallen silent. [Although] 10 years have passed since the collapse of communism -- 10 years in which the union thought mostly about its existing members, all but ignoring the consequences of the biggest event in Europe in the second half of the century -- not a single newcomer is even near to joining."

"What has happened?" the editorial asks. "Three things, mainly," it says. First, "the governments of Germany and Austria are succumbing to their voters' worries about East Europeans' having the right to move and work freely throughout the EU. At the same time," the magazine goes on, "the union is struggling with the changes needed to stop its institutions collapsing under the weight of the newcomers. Lastly," it notes, "the European Commission, the union's executive arm, wants the candidates to achieve near-perfect conformity with the EU's voluminous laws and norms before letting them in. All of these obstacles can be overcome," it argues, "but only with more political will than is at present on display."

The Economist goes on: "For their part, the candidates could do more to concentrate minds. This week's appeal [for collective entry in 2003] by six of them was a good step. But six is too few," says the magazine, "and 2003 is the wrong date to choose." It urges what it considers the 10 most eligible nations -- the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia, Cyprus, and Malta -- to "stand together" and act collectively. "Their best course," the editorial says, "would be to call jointly on the EU's 15 governments for a clear public commitment in principle to a realistic common entry date. Since 2005 is the earliest date that the 15 might consider seriously, that is the one to propose."

"A big bargain of this sort," the Economist argues, "would be good for all parties. It would give the applicants renewed confidence and motivation for reform. It would give the EU's governments a simple proposition to sell to voters. And it would allow the union the time it needs for a proper reform of its institutions."


This week's first anniversary of the end of NATO's air war against Yugoslavia evokes some comment today. In one such assessment, Norway's Aftenposten carries a commentary by Per Anders Madsen, who says: "The 1999 war in Kosovo, which U.S. President Bill Clinton thought would last just seven days, took 74 to bring the conflict into a new phase rather than solve it."

Madsen goes on: "How observers judge the war's long-term results depends on their individual points of view. Some in the West condemn the KFOR peacekeeping force and the United Nations for virtually everything they have done." These analysts, Madsen argues, are simply wrong. He writes: "Both the military and the civilians participating in the Kosovo peace effort have done their best with the resources and mandate they have been given."

The commentary also says: "To expose the false allegations of the regime of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic -- which claims that the situation in Kosovo is now worse than ever -- one has merely to recall the massacres and the [human rights abuses] the same regime inflicted on the Kosovar Albanians. Belgrade," it adds, "has no legal or moral authority either to evaluate current human rights conditions in Kosovo or the present political arrangements in the breakaway province."

Madsen sums up: "NATO lacked an official [international] mandate for its action in Kosovo, but [its air war] did have moral legitimacy. And by deciding to send NATO troops to the Balkans [after the war's end], the West in effect said that human rights had more weight than did respect for national sovereignty. In itself," the commentary concludes, "this was a remarkable achievement."


Finally, Britain's Times daily calls yesterday's killing in central Athens of British Brigadier Stephen Saunders "brazen, horrific and inexcusable." The paper describes Greece's record of terrorism as "lamentable," noting that in the past quarter of a century there have been almost 150 terrorist attacks against U.S. citizens and U.S. interests. The paper complains: "Only one case has been solved, and there is no proper investigation into the remaining cases. Not only Americans have been targeted: diplomats, businessmen, and military officials of other allied countries have been shot dead in broad daylight by the shadowy group calling itself 17 November. Not one has been arrested."

The paper's editorial goes on to say: "The fact is that the Greek government has refused to take terrorism seriously. For years, Athens was a center of Palestinian violence; Athens airport was notoriously insecure and a boarding point for any would-be hijacker. [Most] disgracefully, the government itself condoned terrorist techniques when it gave shelter to Abdullah Ocalan, leader of the Turkish PKK [Kurdistan Workers' Party], and even provided [him] temporary refuge in its ambassador's residence in Nairobi."

The Times adds: "Greece is a member of the EU; in January, it will join the [union's] single currency. Terrorism has long been a priority for concerted EU policy and action." So, it concludes, "if Greece is to continue passport-free access throughout continental Europe, it must demonstrate much greater zeal and competence in eliminating this scourge. In four years' time, Greece will host the Olympic Games. No government should encourage its citizens to attend while fanatics are free to murder with impunity."

(Anthony Georgieff in Copenhagen contributed to this report.)