Prague, May 3 (RFE/RL) - A summit of a dozen leaders of Baltic states and their neighbors opens today in the old port town of Visby on the Swedish island of Gotland. The summit attracts comment from the Western press. Commentary also looks at the unsteady march toward peace in the Mideast.
In the British newspaper Financial Times, Hugh Carnegy and Matthew Kaminski write today: "With the spring thaw breaking up the ice on the Baltic Sea, 12 European heads of government meet today... to celebrate the Baltic region's rebirth after the end of the cold war. Democracy has been thriving since the disintegration of the Soviet Union, and trade and investment are rising.... But the leaders... know that the shadow of the cold war has not been lifted entirely. Russia's opposition to the desire of the Baltic states -- Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania -- to join NATO has left the future of the region's military alliances hanging in the air and added a menacing note of uncertainty to an otherwise positive outlook."
In the Frankfurter Rundschau today, Hannes Gamillscheg writes: " 'Water unifies' is the motto of the Baltic summit to which Sweden invited the heads of government... on Friday and Saturday. But the prosperity gulf which runs through the sea is almost as insuperable as the Iron Curtain used to be, preventing contacts between peoples.... The sums which the West has so far invested in the economic reconstruction of Russia and the Baltic states are larger, in comparison with their economic clout, than post-World War Two Marshall aid to Europe. Even so, economic ties are extremely modest. Trade is on the increase, but virtually from zero. None of the western Baltic littoral states lists eastern neighbours among its major trading partners."
Gamillscheg also says: "Trade, not aid is what the post-communist reform countries of Eastern Europe need, but are not yet getting. But the fact that they are not getting it is not due solely to unwillingness and exaggerated caution.The Baltic states are placing their hopes on joining the European Union at an early date. Yet for the time being the union is putting difficulties in the way of their recovery by setting up trade barriers in the very industries in which they are able to deliver: agricultural products, textiles and steel.... The question is whether people will have enough patience."
Terry Atlas writes today in the Chicago Tribune: "In a show of U.S. support, American military units will conduct peacekeeping maneuvers in Latvia this summer with soldiers from the three Baltic nations, which are deeply fearful of being left vulnerable in a "gray zone" between the NATO alliance and Russia.The Baltics have their eyes on... early membership in an eastward-expanding NATO alliance . But that's not going to happen. So the (U.S.) Clinton administration has begun sensitive talks with Baltic leaders about how Washington can soften the blow by addressing some of their security concerns in other ways. The administration expects to offer a Baltics initiative later this year in part to ease the way for NATO's decision on admitting its first post-Cold War members, most likely Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary."
Commentary on the Mideast considers terrorism and politics. In today's New York Times, foreign affairs columnist Anthony Lewis writes from Jerusalem: "Over the last 10 weeks Israel has suffered a series of terrible suicide bombings and had a frustrating military encounter in Lebanon. A country always concerned about its
security might have been expected to turn sharply against the political leader in office, Prime Minister Shimon Peres. In fact, Peres holds a lead in the polls. Barring a further trauma, he looks likely to win Israel's election on May 29. How can that be? The answers that one finds here shed light on how different events may look to outsiders and to Israelis, and on how leaders can deal politically with the modern phenomenon of terrorism. The suicide bombs of Hamas and the Katyusha rockets of Hezbollah showed the limits of military power in today's world. No force, however powerful, can give Israelis guaranteed protection against that kind of threat."
Sidney Zion writes today in the New York Daily News: "Arafat last week supposedly knocked out the Palestine convenant that promised the end of Israel. He brought in his Palestine Council, and they voted, and what we were told was that they agreed to get rid of all words that Israel had to be destroyed. Only it didn't happen that way. Arafat simply got a vote that said the Palestinians would convene a committee to change the 'death to Israel' charter in the future. This was promoted in Israel and in the world press as a fabulous move that would bring peace. The next day, Shimon Peres announced that his Labor Party had removed its opposition to a Palestinian state.... Everything has been dedicated to the reelection of Peres, everything the traffic will allow. Like the whole scheme in Syria, where Warren Christopher played lap dog for weeks and took humiliation from President Hafez Assad, while Lebanon burned. Assad signed nothing; the ceasefire in Lebanon was no better than the old one that wasn't signed in 1993. But Peres must survive "
The Los Angeles Times said yesterday in an editorial: "The State Department's annual report on international terrorism again names seven countries as being involved in state terrorism. Iran once more is identified as terrorism's 'premier state sponsor,' financing and encouraging radical groups from North Africa to Central Asia, with Hezbollah militants in Lebanon the major beneficiaries of weapons, training and guidance. Rounding out the department's list are Syria (the only one among the seven with official relations with the United States), Cuba, Iraq, Libya, North Korea and Sudan.... Defense Secretary William Perry recently called attention to what he identifies as an underground chemical weapons plant being built by Libya, a facility apparently equipped with technology supplied by several West European countries. U.S. officials... have all but promised a military attack to keep it from going into operation. That would be a dangerous though perhaps ultimately unavoidable step. Far
preferable would be to persuade friendly countries to take more vigorous action to keep the materials needed to make chemical weapons out of Libya's hands."