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Western Press Review: Russia, NATO, Czech-German Relations And Clinton's Inauguration

Prague, 21 January 1997 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. President Bill Clinton draws mixed reviews on both sides of the Atlantic for his second inaugural address yesterday.

NEW YORK TIMES: Clinton's appeal for an end to partisan squabbling was right

The paper says in an editorial today that Clinton's address was an appeal to conciliation and "a new spirit of community for a new century.

The paper says the overarching theme of the entire ceremony was "racial healing." But "looking beyond race," the paper says, "Clinton's appeal for an end to partisan squabbling in Congress was "exactly the right sentiment at a time when, paradoxically, the nation's unusual run of economic prosperity has been accompanied by rising bitterness and resentment, cutting across racial, cultural and political lines."

DETROIT FREE PRESS: The speech appealed to community and emphasized opportunity and responsibility

The paper says that Bill Clinton's speech spread out "simple and defensible themes around which a nation can rally....With its appeal to community, its emphasis on both opportunity and responsibility," the paper says, "Clinton struck the right notes and set a good tone for what must now be done."

TIMES OF LONDON: The quest for consensus was the predominant theme

An editorial says Clinton spoke eloquently of his second term. The paper says Clinton's second inaugural speech "relied more on the power of the American people rather than on the Federal government's role in American society." The Times says "the quest for consensus rather than dramatic innovation or change represented the predominant theme this time," commenting that Clinton's "emphasis on hope and progress fits well with the American spirit."

DAILY TELEGRAPH: The speech was banal and loquacious

In contrast, an editorial in the conservative paper branded Clinton's second inaugural address "banal and loquacious." Commenting on Clinton's first four years in the White House, the paper says "his term will be remembered principally for the man himself, not his measures."

THE GUARDIAN: The greatest nation offers more democracy, nothing else

Similarly, an editorial in leftwing British daily says Clinton's inaugural speech was "disappointing" with little to offer. The paper says "only in speaking of the 'dark impulses' of racism did he focus on America's real problems with conviction." The Guardian asks rhetorically, "And what did the world's greatest nation have to offer the world? More democracy but nothing else."

Russia and Yeltsin

LE MONDE: Russia faces an identity crisis

The health of Russian President Boris Yeltsin, who was released from hospital yesterday following a bout with pneumonia, is cause for comment in a commentary by the Moscow correspondent, Jean-Baptiste Naudet, who notes that while Yeltsin suffers failing health, Russia faces an identity crisis. In Mr. Naudet's words, "the president's 'absences' can only accentuate the decay ("marasme") Russia is in and that is turning into a government crisis."

LONDON TIMES: The political landscape has altered in Yeltsin's absence

The paper's Moscow correspondent, Richard Beeston, says "as Mr. Yeltsin will discover when he does return to work, the political landscape in Russia has altered during his absence and has become far more hostile to his leadership. He says "there is a consensus that President Yeltsin will never fully recover from his ailments and that a leadership contest is inevitable."

FINANCIAL TIMES: Yeltsin's performance will be under intense scrutiny

The paper's Moscow correspondent John Thornhill takes a more restrained line, warning that Yeltsin's "performance will be under intense scrutiny" over the coming weeks. He notes "the Russian media have already built up these meetings as Yeltsin's last chance to convince a sceptical public that he is fit enough to carry on as president."

Russia and NATO

Yesterday's talks in Moscow between NATO Secretary General Javier Solana and Russian Foreign Minister Yevgeni Primakov are cause for commentary in several dailies today.

WASHINGTON POST: Russia's elite is beginning to acknowledge that enlargement is inevitable

David Hoffman writes "there has been a widely held consensus against NATO expansion in Russia's political elite, but recently there has also been a growing acknowledgment that enlargement is inevitable and the focus has shifted to the terms the alliance will offer Russia."

THE GUARDIAN: Russia and NATO are locked in a dispute

The paper's Moscow correspondent David Hearst, comments, "Russia and NATO are locked in a dispute from which it will be difficult to emerge." He writes "Yeltsin cannot agree to NATO expansion after all his criticisms; and no NATO member can agree to a statement barring the Baltics from membership." The paper says "Russia knows it cannot stop NATO issuing invitations in July to Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic. But it can threaten economic sanctions against Estonia and make nationalist noises about Sevastopol... and set up arms sales to China, India and the Arab states."

FRANKFURTER ALLGEMEINE ZEITUNG: Moscow's view is that NATO's expansion cannot be prevented

An editorial says "the view has taken hold in Moscow that NATO's expansion eastwards can no longer be prevented." The German daily says Moscow continues to maneuver in a bid to ensure the western alliance's willingness to accept Moscow's calls for a say in NATO affairs. The start of talks between Primakov and Solana, the paper says, is thus "nothing more than the beginning of a lengthy process that will eventually result in an understanding between Moscow and Washington."

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: Russian leaders are protecting their retreat

Similarly, a commentary by Kurt Kister in Munich's paper says Yeltsin and Primakov know that the 16 NATO member states and the three applicants for early membership are set on enlarged membership and as a result, the Russian leaders are only engaging in diplomatic action intended to protect their retreat.

Czech-German Declaration

The hotly-debated Czech-German declaration being signed in Prague today by Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus and Chancellor Helmut Kohl is grist for numerous German editorial writers and commentators.

HANDELSBLATT: In Prague, no government politician speaks of reconciliation

The paper says that while the German version of the document is clear in referring to the expulsions of Czechs in 1938 from the Sudetenland and Germans from the same area shortly after World War II, the Czech version is "less negative." Josef Abaffy says "this is not a dispute over a word, but rather something more fundamental." He points out that "while the Bundestag lauds the document as the basis for reconciliation, in Prague no government politician speaks of reconciliation." Abaffy notes "Czech Foreign Minister Josef Zieleniec takes pains to avoid using the term 'Sudeten-German,' referring instead to the former German minority or the German-speaking inhabitants of the Czech Lands until 1945."

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: A problem has disappeared from Czech-German relations

A commentary on Czech-German reconciliation by Klaus' former adviser Bohumil Dolezal argues that with today's signing, "a problem has disappeared from Czech-German relations that had the potential for causing substantial harm to the otherwise good relations." He says "the outrage of the Czech extremists over the declaration is understandable: continued disharmony between the Czech Republic and its powerful western neighbor would give them a steady tailwind."

Dolezal warns that any "compromise and reconciliation between the Czechs and the Sudeten-Germans will require considerably more time and may have considerably more modest dimensions than the Czech-German declaration being signed today."