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Western Press Review: Iranian Jews And EU Issues

  • Jeremy Bransten

Prague, 5 July 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Editorial pages of the Western press offer a grab bag of issues today, with no one topic dominating.


The New York Times, in its editorial, focuses on the recent conviction of 10 Iranian Jews on charges of spying for Israel. The paper calls the judgment a "brazen violation of international human rights standards and the due process of law." Iranian President Mohammad Khatami had promised a fair trial, but the newspaper calls that promise "illusory" and it implies that Khatami is in danger of disappointing his own domestic constituency.

The New York Times concludes: "The Iranian people in the recent parliamentary elections showed they want relief from rigid fundamentalist rule. But progress for human rights in the face of the conservative clerics who hold power over the judiciary and the security forces is slow and fitful. This case shows how far Iran has to go to meet the expectations that Mr. Khatami has set."


Britain's Financial Times returns to the European continent -- namely the EU's ongoing sanctions dispute with Austria over the makeup of its government. The paper says Portugal's last-minute initiative to have a committee of experts evaluate the state of democracy in Austria, is not likely to break the impasse: "The experts, who have yet to be selected, have been set no deadline for their inquiry. The leaders of France, who have just taken over the EU chairmanship, have said the experts should not bother to report during France's six-month presidency because Paris has no intention in that period of altering the current political boycott of Austria by each of its 14 EU partners." Furthermore, the paper notes, the Austrian government has now decided to hold a referendum, in which it plans to ask its citizens this fall whether Vienna should use "all suitable means" to ensure the lifting of sanctions. A favorable vote could allow Austria to block or slow most of the EU's internal reforms, a prerequisite for planned eastward expansion. The Financial Times says the EU "should have already lifted sanctions in recognition of the fact that the Vienna government has not actually done anything to deserve such ostracism. Their failure to do so has now created a situation that the populist [Joerg] Haider is all too well equipped to exploit."


The Sueddeutsche Zeitung says in an editorial today that Viennese politicians are referring to the referendum as a "golden goal" -- but the newspaper says they should see it as an "own goal" (Eigentor) instead.

The German newspaper asks who is supposed to benefit from such a referendum. In its words: "It's just silly to ask the Austrian people whether the Europeans are allowed to be unfriendly to them. But afterwards the Viennese actors will boast that the nation stands united behind them. Others, however, will also boast -- their sharpest critics."

The editorial says critics will portray the likely results of such a referendum as a sign of wider acceptance of narrow-minded chauvinism and a rejection of EU enlargement. "They will take the result as proof," it continues, "of how right they were in their -- ill-considered -- call for sanctions."


London's Daily Telegraph and The Wall Street Journal Europe also focus on the EU -- this time, its relations with Britain. Both newspapers discuss whether Britain should consider loosening its bonds with the EU and joining the North American Free Trade Association instead, composed of the United States, Canada, and Mexico.

The question is prompted by the visit to London this week of U.S. Republican Senator Phil Gramm, who has advanced the idea. The Wall Street Journal Europe writes: "His voice has lent a certain credence to a position that up to now has received little more than a disapproving snort from those opposed. ... What Senator Gramm expressly does not say is that Britain should leave Europe or withdraw from the EU. Yet that decision lies at the heart of the issue."

That is because the EU's Treaty of Rome forbids EU member states from concluding any trade agreements on their own. But even so, the paper notes, if one follows Gramm's argument, it still sounds like a potentially attractive option. In the paper's words: "At the least, [Gramm] argues, Britain would have the same status as Norway and Switzerland as members of the European Economic Area, which has close trade ties to the EU without a lot of the political and regulatory baggage. That doesn't sound all bad to many British ears."

The Wall Street Journal concludes by saying that the idea is worthy of consideration, but it warns against rushing to action. The paper notes that more than half of Britain's trade remains with the EU, and it says a worthier goal might be to try to have the EU liberalize its own trade and economic policies so that it itself becomes more like NAFTA.


Britain's conservative Daily Telegraph is fully supportive of Phil Gramm's position and argues that "just because current European law prevents such a proposal should not mean that it is deemed unworthy of serious consideration by Downing Street and the Foreign Office." The paper says the EU has become increasingly protectionist, which it says is detrimental to economic growth and trade, "as any businessman in Eastern Europe will readily confirm."

The Daily Telegraph says NAFTA, which has no other aspirations beyond being a free-trade zone, is what many Britons thought the EU should limit itself to being, when their country joined. In a dig at France and Germany, which back a two-level Europe in which a core of EU countries would move to greater integration, the paper writes: "If we are to have a two-tier Europe, then it should at least be one that allows Britain some latitude as well. If the [Labour] government will not give Senator Gramm's proposal the consideration it deserves, then the Conservatives certainly should."


Turning to Kosovo, Irene Miller writes the editorial for Austria's Die Presse today, saying the international community has let itself down in Kosovo. In her words: "Despite the whining about the high costs, peacekeeping troops and U.N. administrators under their leader Bernard Kouchner are apparently quite satisfied with the outlook that they could remain and rule Kosovo another 15 or 20 years. Kouchner explained a few months ago that the international community must make its goals in Kosovo clear -- but he didn't force the issue. And so it was possible for him in the last few weeks to cut a deal with the Serbs in the province that they would be responsible for the security of their enclave."

Miller asks irately: "Did Kouchner not factor in that the Albanians would defend themselves against such a move? Instead of finally and clearly declaring how the future of Kosovo should look, [the UN] is playing games that leave nobody satisfied and everyone insecure."


A commentary in Italy's daily La Stampa focuses on the perennial topic of EU enlargement, questioning whether the European Union can afford a speedy eastward expansion. Writer Mario Deaglio says that the entry of new not wealthy members into a union that is already wrestling with unemployment would only create tougher competition for EU funds and subsidies. And that, he says, would be to the disadvantage of poorer current members.

He writes: "Perhaps it would be reasonable, in order to avoid such grave problems, to link the speed of enlargement to the medium-term economic growth of the union." He continues: "If one accepts this link, then one quickly reaches the conclusion that the optimal level of integration is that which guarantees there is suffiecient growth to make the accession of new members advantageous to everybody."


The U.S.'s Boston Globe, in an editorial headlined "The anti-arms race," returns to the issue of Washington's proposed national defense missile initiative. The paper says that even though the technology to create the defense does not yet exist, it threatens to unleash a new Cold War between the U.S. and Russia. As the paper puts it, the two sides' "avoidable confrontation is bringing out the worst in each country's military-industrial complex."

The paper continues: "As if Washington's heedless rush toward a technologically dubious missile defense system were not bad enough, Moscow has responded with an equally unrealistic proposal to obviate the need for an American system with a missile defense system of its own." The paper advises civilian leaders in both countries to stop listening exclusively to their military planners and come up with a more rational, cooperative solution: "The civilian leaders in both countries need to solicit the advice of honest, independent scientists and replace delusions with policies that can truly make both secure."


Finally, Denmark's Berlingske Tidende disagrees, demonstrating understanding for the Pentagon's pet project. The paper writes today: "The kind of threat that the system will be designed to withstand is very real: Two years ago, the erstwhile monopoly in advanced technology the Great Powers had was broken by North Korea, which constructed a three-stage missile and thus shocked the rest of the world. Within the next decade, other rogue anti-U.S. countries such as Iran and Iraq may also be able to construct ballistic missiles of their own. In view of this, the desire of the United States to prepare itself for any eventuality is quite understandable."

(Susan Caskie, Charles Recknagel and Anthony Georgieff contributed to this report.)