Prague, 30 May 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Western press commentary today looks at EU-Russian relations, U.S. foreign policy, the Middle East, and the continuing standoff between nuclear powers India and Pakistan. Other analysis discusses political maneuvers in Georgia ahead of 2 June general elections and the controversy over Libya's reported offer of $10 million to each of the 270 families of the victims of Pan Am flight 103, which exploded over Lockerbie, Scotland. A Libyan national was convicted of the bombing.
An editorial in the British "Financial Times" discusses EU-Russian relations and says with the EU's offer yesterday to grant Russia market-economy status, Europe showed itself more willing than the U.S. to be "generous to Moscow." But the "FT" adds: "Of course, Russia still falls short of being a genuine market economy in many ways, as it slowly unravels the state domination of its economy. The European move is more a recognition of progress toward market relations than of their achievement. But it is a positive signal."
But more progress is still needed in the EU-Russian partnership, the paper advises. "Failure to agree on visa-free status for the Kaliningrad enclave, after Poland and Lithuania join the EU, is one important stumbling block," it says. EU member states are "not prepared to allow a visa-free corridor through their future territory to an area where crime, disease, and drug trafficking are rife." But both sides should look at Kaliningrad as an opportunity, the paper says. The enclave "could be used as test-bed for the wider relationship. It could become part of a free-trade area and a customs union with the EU in advance of the rest of Russia. Cheap and easy multiple-entry visas could be provided at EU consulates."
The "FT" says while Russia's membership in the EU is not yet a viable option, "A free trade area would be a sensible halfway house, with the option left open for closer integration."
THE NEW YORK TIMES:
In a contribution to "The New York Times," controversial author Salman Rushdie discusses the crisis over Kashmir, as nuclear powers India and Pakistan continue to face off over the disputed region. Rushdie takes a skeptical view of the leadership in both countries, and suggests each may have personal political motivations in the crisis. Current strains on the subcontinent feel like a "replay" of the last time tensions escalated over Kashmir, he writes. Three years ago, the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party "had just lost a confidence vote in India's parliament and was nervously awaiting a general election. At once it began to beat the war drums over Kashmir," he says. Today, another coalition government "may be about to lose another general election. So here goes the government again, talking up a Kashmiri war and asking India to stand firm behind its leadership."
Meanwhile, Rushdie says in Pakistan, President Pervez Musharraf is being pressured by the U.S. to "stamp out" Kashmiri terrorism. But Musharraf "has been playing a double game," says Rushdie, by "arresting hundreds of members of the groups he once fostered but quietly freeing most of them soon afterward. Caught between two necessities -- placating his major international sponsor and playing to the home audience -- he may well in the end follow his deepest political instincts: to support -- overtly or covertly -- the Islamist radicals who have terrorized the once idyllic valley of Kashmir for well over a decade."
LOS ANGELES TIMES:
In a contribution to the "Los Angeles Times" reprinted in today's "International Herald Tribune," former British Foreign Secretary David Owen says the United States and the world community must take a more active part in outlining a final solution to the Middle East conflict. He says the U.S. should propose "a final-status plan" that delineates the territories of the two states. Implementing such a plan, he says, would necessitate U.S. and international forces on the ground to ensure security. "As so often in the midst of conflict," says Owen, "the key to peace lies in agreeing on a map."
He says it "is not possible to create a Palestinian state that is territorially coherent and self-sustaining, pockmarked throughout with Israeli settlements." And yet Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon might withdraw from the settlements "only if he sees American forces on the ground capable of ensuring Israeli security." Owen advises that Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Egypt must also play a part, by building up the economy of the Palestinian state so that economic links between it and Israel can be re-established, allowing for "mutual confidence" to emerge. In addition, he says, "If the Americans can convince the Arabs, the Palestinians will accept a U.S.-proposed map."
Owen acknowledges that some observers believe Sharon will never give up his own idea of a regional map, "which concedes only half of the 1967 hectarage." But Owen says Sharon also knows "that the present situation is unsustainable."
THE WASHINGTON POST:
Several papers today discuss Libya's controversial offer of $10 million to each of the 270 families of the victims of Pan Am flight 103, which exploded over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988. A Libyan national was later convicted of the bombing.
The potential deal offers both advantages and disadvantages, says an editorial in "The Washington Post." By accepting the offer, the U.S. administration could send a message to other regimes that ending support for terrorism "can bring tangible rewards." The paper adds that there is also a political motivation: "It could also satisfy White House friends in the U.S. oil industry, who are clamoring to return to Libya's rich fields."
But payment of the compensation "would be explicitly linked to the end of sanctions: Forty percent would be paid when United Nations sanctions [were] fully lifted, 40 percent when U.S. sanctions were canceled, and the rest when Libya is removed from the State Department's list of terror-sponsoring states." The paper says, "Such an explicit payment-for-policy mechanism is not only distasteful but also would bind the U.S. government and United Nations to a deal negotiated by private lawyers...."
The "Post" remarks that the agreement might also excuse Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi "from fully meeting other terms for the lifting of sanctions." The editorial concludes that the current deal offers "cash in lieu of change." And this, it says, "is not worth taking up."
INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE:
A piece reprinted in today's "International Herald Tribune" by "Los Angeles Times" syndicated columnist William Pfaff says U.S. President George W. Bush "finished his European journey with U.S. foreign policy in deepening confusion. The crises between Pakistan and India, and Israel and the Palestinians, are slipping beyond American control. The European trip did nothing to add to the administration's credibility."
Pfaff says Bush's 26 May exhortation that Pakistan do more to control Kashmiri militants "got no better response" than his earlier demands that Israel withdraw from the occupied territories. "Bush's inability to control his own proteges in the war on terrorism undermines the administration's credibility." He adds that the arms control and NATO agreements reached with Moscow during Bush's European tour "were mainly successes for [Russian President] Vladimir Putin's foreign policy" rather than America's.
In addition, Pfaff says President Bush's "rather bad-tempered" address with French President Jacques Chirac produced "faintly ironic, or possibly amused, responses" from the French leader.
Pfaff goes on to note that while the U.S. president's European visit was taking place, the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff were making it clear they are "unanimously against a military move against Iraq this year," although some in the Bush administration have recommended just such a move. Furthermore, the Joint Chiefs "harbor serious doubts that such an attack should take place at all."
In "Eurasia View" Georgian affairs analyst Jaba Devdariani says political maneuvers in Tbilisi have made the anticipated 2 June general elections "anybody's game." The elections will choose members of city and town councils across Georgia, although they are not expected to increase local governing authority. "Most crucial political positions will continue to be occupied by presidential appointees and elected councils will not have much influence," writes Devdariani. However, the elections "will shape national politics in at least two respects: they will be a litmus test of public support before 2003 and will give the winner some control over the capital via the Tbilisi City Council."
President Eduard Shevardnadze's power base, the Citizens' Union of Georgia (SMK), has disintegrated into anti-Shevardnadze and pro-presidential factions, Devdariani writes. The local elections will help determine the popularity of the president's opposition. At the same time, smaller parties are also jockeying for position.
The 2 June elections promise "to reflect how fragmented Georgian politics has become," Devdariani predicts. The campaign has been characterized as indicating "increasing radicalization" in Georgian politics. Most polls show the smaller Nationalist, New Rights, and Labor parties "are leading the race, separated by narrow margins," notes Devdariani. Thus, undecided voters will probably determine most outcomes.
In France's daily "Liberation," foreign affairs analyst Francois Godement says Europe is lacking in its foreign and security policy. In light of European "insignificance" on the "great debates and crises" facing the planet, he says the "sighs and invectives" of the U.S. administration can be understood. Too often, writes Godement, criticisms of U.S. unilateralism, of moral simplicity -- such as with the "axis of evil" -- or of its pragmatic pursuit of petroleum interests and alliances with questionable regimes are contrasted with a "hollow" European political ideal: one that is multilateral, conciliatory, altruistic, restrained with the use of force and, of course, effective.
The worst argument for European foreign policy is that of providing a "counterweight" to U.S. power, says Godement, for values and interests should not radically diverge between the two sides of the Atlantic. If this were the case, the proof of the existence of a European policy would be merely that it balances American power, he says. Then, it would not only be the Cold War that has come to an end but also the great trans-Atlantic alliance that arose from the common experience of the world wars of the 20th century, the alliance that Godement says also "established and ceaselessly spread democratic peace."