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Western Press Review: Chirac Makes A Move

PRAGUE, 9 May 1997 (RFE/RL) -- French President Jacques Chirac's move in calling early elections was based on the notion of better sooner than later. But Western commentary suggests that -- just possibly -- it didn't come soon enough.

FRANKFURTER RUNDSCHAU: Campaign reaches a turning point

Hans-Hagen Bremer comments today that the crux of the campaign may be at hand. He writes: "Two weeks after President Jacques Chirac dissolved the National Assembly and called an early election, the election campaign in France has reached a turning point. What seemed set to be a walkover for the ruling neo-Gaullist Rassemblement pour la Republique (RPR) and conservative Union pour la Democratie Francaise (UDF) is turning out to be a race in which the opponent, the leftwing Opposition of Socialists and Communists, is gaining ground."

Bremer says: "This led the President to pen an article published in 14 regional newspapers explaining to his compatriots once again what he already tried to make clear to them in a television address two weeks ago: why they should go to the polls now instead of waiting for the normal end of the legislative term next spring, and why they should vote for his government -- in other words, for him. None of his reasons is new." The writer says: "The real reason for Chirac's electoral foray, though it is not one that features in his newspaper article, is of a tactical nature. He felt that his chances of winning the election would be better now than later."

NEW YORK TIMES: President Jacques Chirac--clever of foolhardy?

In a recent news analysis, Craig R. Whitney in France's Loire Valley asks: "Was President Jacques Chirac clever or foolhardy to ask French voters to give him a new legislative mandate for the economic sacrifices he says are necessary to get France in on a European common currency in 1999?"

Whitney's answer? On verra. Or, roughly, the outcome is not yet apparent. Whitney writes: "(France's) Socialists have backtracked on the euro, demanding a renegotiation of its terms so that France and other European countries can let up on the relentless deficit reduction now required for them to join it and try to stimulate creating jobs in an effort to jostle unemployment figures, which have been stuck in the double digits for years.

"The French Socialists' allies in the Communist Party oppose the very idea of the new currency as a triumph of global capitalism over the right to make a decent living. That leaves (people like Blois Mayor Jack) Lang (a Socialist who is a member of the European Parliament) in a quandary about how to kick off his own campaign for a seat in the French National Assembly."

WASHINGTON POST: President's elan greeted with ennui

Writing yesterday from Paris in a news analysis, Anne Swardson suggested that Chirac's calls for a "new elan" is being greeted with ennui. She wrote : "When he called the election for a new National Assembly in April, ten months ahead of schedule, Chirac said he hoped for a 'new elan' in France. Wednesday, in a statement printed in 14 regional newspapers and pirated by several Paris papers, Chirac said France needs a 'shared elan' and criticized the opposition Socialists' proposals for more government programs and less business privatization."

She said: "In the bifurcated French system, presidents are not expected to inject themselves into legislative politics. Chirac's job is not on the line, but his command of the reins of government and the future of his ally, Prime Minister Alain Juppe, would be called into question by a Socialist victory."

The writer concluded: "Though Chirac's message was a clearer expression of his center-right government's hopes for modernizing France's stratified economy than before, it also illustrated his political quandary. Many of his goals are, in their broad form, opposed or feared by French voters."


Commentators in The Times of London, The London Independent, and The New York Times examine Russian wavering between reluctance and bellicosity on NATO expansion. A London Independent headline calls it "doublethink."

TIMES OF LONDON: Plans of expansion provoke a dispute

Moscow correspondent Robin Lodge and defense correspondent Michael Evans write in a news analysis that the latest swing of the pendulum is toward bellicosity. They write: "President (Boris) Yeltsin issued a warning yesterday that NATO's plans to expand eastwards had provoked the most serious dispute between Russia and the United States since the 1962 Cuban missile crisis."

The writers say: "During the Cuban missile crisis, Soviet nuclear brinkmanship caused the world to hold its breath, as President Kennedy battled with Nikita Khrushchev, the Soviet Communist leader, to prevent Moscow from installing nuclear missiles on the island.

"Western diplomatic sources said that the Russian leader was resorting to strong rhetoric to appease his political opponents. He is under pressure from Communists and nationalists who argue that he is selling out his country's interests. President Yeltsin's comparison with 1962 precedes next week's crucial meeting between Yevgeni Primakov, the Russian Foreign Minister, and Javier Solana, the NATO Secretary-General, to try to agree (to) a special security charter between Moscow and the West."

The analysis continues: "NATO has already included in the draft text of an agreement a declaration that it has 'no intention, no plans and no reason for deploying nuclear weapons' on the territory of the new member states. If the negotiations in Moscow (next) Tuesday are successful, a NATO-Russia act laying down the new strategic partnership between the alliance and Moscow, will be signed in Paris on May 27 by NATO's 16 heads of government and Mr Yeltsin."

LONDON INDEPENDENT: Yeltzin exhibiting symptoms of political schizophrenia

Defense correspondent, Christopher Bellamy, comments today: "President Boris Yeltsin is exhibiting apparent symptoms of political schizophrenia. Yesterday, he said a treaty on NATO-Russian relations was 98 percent ready, and that he might join Moscow talks in person next week to hammer out the last 2 percent. Then, almost simultaenously, he said that the plans for NATO's expansion are the most serious dispute between Russia and the United States since the 1962 Cuban missile crisis."

Bellamy says: "The Russian view has been colored by its experience of the now-defunct Warsaw Pact, where the Soviet Union dominated the military structure of the other member states, and had large Soviet contingents, including short- and medium-range nuclear weapons, stationed on their territory."

NEW YORK TIMES: NATO is not a threat to Russian security

Earlier this week, before the Yeltsin "Cuban missile crisis" outburst, Craig Whitney wrote that the NATO talks were progressing. He wrote: "Clinton and the European leaders who support NATO expansion repeatedly have tried to reassure the Russians that enlarging the alliance would not be a threat to Russian security. By eliminating rivalries and insecurities on Russia's western periphery, the allied argument goes, NATO will improve security for Russia as well. Primakov's answer at a meeting with NATO foreign ministers in Brussels last December was, 'NATO enlargement will lead inevitably to a new division of Europe.' But he agreed then to try to negotiate a charter to limit the damage."