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Western Press Review: Blair's Victory, Iran Elections, EU

  • Khatya Chhor
  • Dora Slaba

Prague, 8 June 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Today's Western press commentary focuses largely on elections, with this morning's general election results from Britain showing that Prime Minister Tony Blair has easily won a second term. Iranians also head to the polls today, with reformist President Mohammad Khatami favored to win his re-election bid. Other commentaries look at European integration and the escalating conflict in Macedonia.


An editorial in "The Wall Street Journal Europe" describes British Prime Minister Tony Blair as having clear free-market leanings, and as a result being "cut from an entirely different cloth than Socialists on the Continent and members of the Democratic Party in the U.S." The paper writes that after Blair's re-election, "the question is whether he will continue to govern from the center, move further in the direction of free-market ideas, or be forced toward the left." It adds that Blair may be "forced left or right by pure economic necessity. He will either have to raise taxes or curtail his ambitions to spend more on public services."


Another editorial, this one in "The Washington Post," also looks at the British elections and says while the Conservative and Labor parties are similar on many topics, the one issue that clearly divides them is that of joining the European single currency. While the Conservative Party is against joining, Labor has said they will hold a referendum on the subject of accession. The paper says that this issue will determine the amount of sway Britain will have in the Europe of the future.

It writes: "In theory, there is no reason why British adoption of the euro should affect London's ability to influence European policy. [But] the truth is that Britain is regarded with suspicion by its European partners as long as it disdains the euro. In an intangible way, this reduces Britain's clout in Continental capitals."


An analysis in the French daily "Le Monde" by London correspondent Jean-Pierre Langellier looks at the reasons behind the Labor victory and what has been called the Conservatives' "crushing defeat." He describes the conservative Tories as having been "set adrift" by a lack of ideas coupled with an unpopular leader. He adds that Conservative Party candidate William Hague chose his campaign issues badly, focusing his attention on denouncing the possibility of British adoption of the euro. This strategy, Langellier says, misread the British public, as "the single currency is no longer [a major] concern at the moment for the majority of British, who are satisfied that Tony Blair promised them a referendum on the question." Langellier adds that the sectarian flavor of the Tory emphasis on immigration restrictions was also received badly by a public that, on this issue at least, seems to be more liberal than they are.


Commentator Stefan Klein, writing in the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung," says it's "time for Blair to get to work." He says that the decision to keep Blair on Downing Street means the country is ready for the prime minister to deliver on his campaign promises: "The country can wallow in the blessings of all those innovations which the people were actually promised way back before the elections," he says.

Klein notes that there are several issues that Blair failed to solve in what Klein calls his "anything-but-glorious first term." His poor record on the education system, which has reached "third-world proportions," added to the signals coming from the inner cities, with youths of South Asian descent rioting in Oldham and Leeds. Blair, Klein said, has his work cut out for him.


Nikolaus Blome in "Die Welt" concentrates on Britain's foreign policy, saying Blair must make a decision on Britain's affiliation with Europe. In his first term, Blair wavered, at one time committing himself to a "third way" in his social policies, at other times opposing immigration, and lastly, making only vague gestures but little commitment with regard to European membership.

Now that the Conservatives have won few points, Blome thinks Blair could be more daring in his pro-European attitudes. He writes: "The other EU countries have waited for Britain long enough, and their patience will not last forever. In less than six months the Europeans will take a big step forward with the introduction of a new monetary system -- and they will leave the undecided British behind." Blome adds that Blair has to "take the leap across the Channel" and say either yes or no.


An analysis in "The Guardian" by commentator Martin Woollacott looks at the election today in Iran and says that while the re-election of reformist Iranian President Mohammad Khatami is assured, what remains important is voter turnout. If it is low, Woollacott says, "the conclusion will have to be that Khatami has already lost the confidence of the Iranians who elected him by such a massive vote in 1997 and who reinforced that by packing parliament with reform candidates last year. If [turnout] is high, then Khatami has another chance."

Woollacott notes that Khatami lost most of his battles for reform over the past four years, with many of his allies being tried or imprisoned, parliamentary reform legislation ignored, and Iran's free press largely destroyed. Iran's major problem, Woollacott says, is corruption. The hard-liners' attack on the newspapers, he writes, "was prompted much more by fear that press investigations were about to uncover evidence that could eventually send them to jail than by objections to what journalists were writing about freedom or political principles." If Khatami wants to bring about more political change, he adds, "he will have to steel himself to take bigger risks."


An editorial in "The New York Times" addresses the issue of global warming in light of a recent (U.S.) National Academy of Sciences report reaffirming the threat, and declaring that human activity is largely responsible for the warming. The paper writes: "[George W.] Bush began his tenure [as U.S. president] by abandoning a campaign pledge to seek national limits on carbon dioxide, the main global warming gas, and by renouncing the Kyoto Protocol, the 1997 treaty that committed industrialized countries to mandatory reductions of carbon dioxide and five other greenhouse gases."

The paper notes that these actions have drawn worldwide criticism, specifically from Japan and Europe, and says that only now has the Bush administration "grudgingly and belatedly acknowledged the existence of 'sound science' on which to base a global-warming policy." The paper adds that the administration has yet to give "any indication of what that policy might be."

The paper concludes that President Bush must "accept the fact that there can be no solution without American leadership." It writes: "The United States must lead not only because it is the world's biggest offender, producing one-fourth of the world's greenhouse emissions with only 5 percent of the population," but because it is still an important leader in the areas of policy and technology.


A contribution to the "International Herald Tribune" by Balkan-affairs analyst and former U.S. diplomat William G. Walker addresses the issue of the escalating conflict in Macedonia and says that U.S. involvement is vital for a solution. Walker suggests a Dayton-like conference, and emphasizes that such a gathering will not succeed if the international community continues to refuse all contact with the ethnic Albanian National Liberation Army, or NLA (UCK). He writes: "Outsiders fear that to talk with the NLA will somehow 'legitimize' a violent group, as if the NLA, with its cause, its popular support, and its guns needed such legitimacy." He adds that the international community "should have welcomed and built upon the recent agreement between Albanian political leaders and the NLA brokered by U.S. diplomat Robert Frowick. Instead," he writes, "the agreement was condemned."

Walker says that history has repeatedly shown that combatants like the NLA will not lay down their guns if they are "branded as illegitimate and excluded from negotiations." He adds that the NLA "has offered to talk instead of fight," and that the Macedonian government's attempt to win a military victory "will only drive more recruits into the ranks of the NLA."


A "Financial Times" editorial also looks at the situation in Macedonia and says that the latest violence "amounts to a call for action from the U.S. and its European allies." It writes that "with the risk of civil war growing it is time to consider more active intervention." The paper adds that EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana, who visits the Macedonian capital Skopje today, should offer Macedonia more support in interethnic peace talks and encourage the government not to rule out an amnesty for the rebels. Otherwise, the paper writes, it is hard to see how the violence will stop.

The paper also suggests that "the West should prepare for the possibility of a military peacekeeping force, [dispatched] only with the agreement of both the Macedonian government and the [ethnic Albanian] rebels." Because intervention will prove unpopular in the U.S., the paper continues, "the responsibility will be on Europe to take the lead." "Entering a conflict is easier than getting out," the paper writes. "[But] better to prepare for it now than too late."