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Western Press Review: U.S. Role In Europe, Press In Russia, Mitchell Report

  • Khatya Chhor
  • Dora Slaba

Prague, 23 May 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Much Western press commentary today discusses a perceived shift in U.S. policy toward European affairs, and the role U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is playing in the change. Other subjects touched on include the Mitchell report on the conflict in the Middle East, evolving EU policy, press-freedom issues in Russia, and finding a workable strategy for Kosovo.


In a commentary for "The Wall Street Journal Europe," the executive director of the New Atlantic Initiative, Jeffrey Gedmin, writes that "Mr. Rumsfeld seems to hold special honors when it comes to fueling European anxieties" -- most recently by admitting that he had been "pushing to withdraw the approximately 3,300 American peacekeepers in Bosnia." Europe's problem with Rumsfeld, Gedmin writes, is his "ruthless pragmatism and complete lack of sentimentality."

According to the commentator, Rumsfeld also remains skeptical of EU plans to create a EU rapid-reaction force independent of NATO. He says Rumsfeld's "sweeping review of U.S. military strategy is likely to conclude that a shift in American emphasis from Europe toward emerging threats in Asia is warranted." He concludes that: "Mr. Rumsfeld's Pentagon is likely to be guided on all these issues by cold-blooded pragmatism, not ideology. In fact, don't expect him to entirely turn his back on peacekeeping. Don't expect him to keep American troops ready for Soviet tanks crossing Germany's Fulda Gap either."


"The Washington Post" carries a commentary by staffer Keith Richburg, who writes that Rumsfeld's recent remarks "fed European anxieties that [President George W. Bush's] administration has a penchant for taking actions and making statements unilaterally without consulting its allies." Rumsfeld's statement on withdrawing American troops from Bosnia, he adds, "came at a time when continuing fighting in Macedonia suggests to many Europeans that instability in the Balkans could spread and possibly require greater involvement by NATO allies."

Richburg goes on to remark that "Europeans have in recent weeks become accustomed to sometimes conflicting signals from the new administration" and that some "are waiting for President Bush to clarify the administration's position on the Balkans next month during his first trip to Europe." He adds that Secretary of State Colin Powell managed to assuage the fears of some with assurances that "the NATO allies went into the Balkans together and will come out together." But officials in Bosnia, Richburg writes, "expressed unease over the statement."

He adds that former U.S. Ambassador to the UN Richard Holbrooke, one of the chief architects of the 1995 peace Dayton peace accords for Bosnia, was also critical of Rumsfeld's remarks: "It doesn't make sense to think about a withdrawal yet," Richburg quotes Holbrooke as saying yesterday.


The "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" writes of the projected EU expansion to the East today: "In sports language, EU enlargement is regarded as a question of (physical) condition. Without staying power, the candidates are unable to reach the goal of admittance," its editorial says of Poland's efforts to attain EU admission. The paper's editorial goes on: "Strength of nerves is also critical, for sometimes the candidates must regard themselves as long-distance runners on whom the referee is playing tricks. Whenever the finishing line is in sight, he finds a way to set it up somewhat farther."

The paper says that the earliest possible admission date for Poland has been extended from the original promise of 2000 to 2004. It notes that the Polish government has declared that its Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek would accept this date. In Brussels, however, Buzek spoke against such a delay, attributing it to a misunderstanding. "A pity," says the editorial," for an honest gesture would have been perceived as new sincerity. For over a decade after the establishment of democracy the Central Europeans have expected the admittance negotiations to be concluded in 2004, [seen as] as an achievable target. For that, the EU in turn could expect realism on the part of the candidates," the commentary concludes.


In a commentary in Britain's "Financial Times," Leonid Bershidsky, editor of the Russian daily "Vedomosti," writes that recent criticisms of President Vladimir Putin's actions regarding the Russian media are largely misguided. He says that perceptions of President Putin have been shaped "by a public relations campaign of extraordinary skill, run by an organization with much experience in such matters. The organization," Bershidsky continues, "was Media-MOST, and its main operating unit was NTV, Russia's biggest private television channel, controlled until recently by Vladimir Gusinsky, an 'oligarch' of the Yeltsin era."

Bershidsky says that Gusinsky now admits to "'mistakes' in using his media empire to achieve political goals." "As control of NTV was wrested from him by creditors," Bershidsky writes, "[Gusinsky] has assumed an improbable new identity as a martyr to press freedom. [Mr. Gusinsky] claims that Mr. Putin strangled his media empire because it was independent," Bershidsky continues. "On the contrary. The Kremlin was able to bulldoze Media-MOST precisely because Media-MOST was so dependent on the state for funding."


Also in the "Financial Times," correspondent Judy Dempsey analyzes the approach of EU Commissioner for external affairs Chris Patten regarding the evolution of EU policy. She writes: "A philosophy is starting to emerge. [There] is an implicit question [Patten] is determined to tackle: is it possible to institutionalize human rights, one of the pillars on which the EU was founded, into the EU's foreign policy?"

Dempsey says that for Commissioner Patten, "human rights is a necessary element of a foreign policy to complement the EU's increasingly powerful economic clout. [Where] the commissioner differs from his predecessors and several EU ministers is in his conviction that morality and expediency are not separate."

Dempsey also notes inconsistencies in EU policy regarding nations accused of violating human rights. She quotes one EU diplomat as saying: "Russia is a big power. There is a degree of hypocrisy over how we deal with Russia compared with smaller states that do not threaten our interests."

She goes to say: "There are many examples where inaction, self-interest of member states, and historical alliances have allowed incipient conflicts to explode into civil war. The Balkans is one. The competing interests of member states and differing opinions [brought] the EU's decision-making machine to a virtual standstill." In Patten's opinion, if the EU is serious about conflict prevention and the promotion of human rights, then: "We should be prepared to react to less clearly defined circumstances," to act earlier to prevent the escalation of a threatening situation.


In "The New York Times," Balkan-affairs analyst Tim Judah comments on the constitutional framework for the province of Kosovo released last week by the UN governor for the region, Hans Haekkerup. Judah calls Haekkerup's plan "a sensible compromise" that will allow Kosovo's Albanians and Serbs to "run the territory until they are both ready to talk about its final status."

Judah further notes that "Kosovars will be running their own day-to-day affairs. [But] the arrangements have no time limit. [In] effect, the lack of a time limit serves as a 'no-confidence' vote in Albanian leaders, who have done little or nothing to stop violence against Serbs and other minority populations."

He goes on to say: "The Serbian leadership in Kosovo rejected the constitutional framework out of hand, declaring that it will boycott the elections. [In] Belgrade, Serbia's leaders called the plan a concession to Albanian separatists. And they continue to insist that Kosovo is part of Serbia by historical right."

In conclusion, Judah says, "the constitutional framework may be the best we can hope for. If Albanians and Serbs accept the plan, then there's hope yet for the region. If not, they may eventually be doomed to decades of Middle East-style violence."


Stephan Israel, in a commentary for the "Frankfurter Rundschau," says that the so-called ethnic Albanian liberation army in the south Serbian towns of Presevo, Medvedja, and Bujanovac could act to bring about a peaceful conclusion to the conflict in the area this week. He says: "The explosive conflict in the community with an Albanian majority in south Serbia was a legacy from the Milosevic era. After the power change in Belgrade, the spiraling violence has been curbed by clever crisis management."

Israel sees the pacification of Serbia's Presevo valley as a model for the Balkans. "The Macedonian government," he writes, "harassed by 'extremists,' should regard the negotiations as setting an example. And the Albanian rebels could, after the capitulation of their brothers in arms in south Serbia, admit a lack of prospects for their dangerous little war."


Other commentaries today focus on the crisis in the Middle East, examining the recently released Mitchell report and its potential for ending the violence in the region. An editorial in "The Washington Post" says that both sides "are ignoring its recommendations for lessened violence and renewed political dialogue. [The] Palestinians are doing nothing to restore security cooperation with Israel, which the commission's report [identifies] as key to the first phase of de-escalation and confidence rebuilding."

The paper adds: "The Israelis, for their part, should call back the F-16s and accept a key commission recommendation: a freeze on Jewish settlements in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip." In light of these circumstances, the editorial concludes that "only a sustained and serious American push is likely to lead the parties toward acceptance of the Mitchell report."


A related editorial in "The New York Times" says that "the Bush administration has wisely decided to play a more active role in trying to restore a semblance of Mideast peace." The paper notes that Washington's consultations will be conducted by William Burns, current ambassador to Jordan, who is awaiting Senate confirmation as the State Department's top Mideastern envoy.

The editorial continues: "General [Colin] Powell made clear on Monday (21 May) that he did not see this as the right time to engage in the kind of Mideast shuttle diplomacy carried out by previous secretaries of state." But the paper says that Powell should "consider a visit to the region to encourage Prime Minister Ariel Sharon of Israel and the Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, to still the violence and begin carrying out some of the Mitchell commission's constructive recommendations."

"The first stage cannot be delayed much longer," the editorial concludes, "without running the risk of an explosive regional conflict. If Mr. Burns cannot quickly move the two sides to cool down the conflict, General Powell may have to take on that assignment himself."