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Western Press Review: U.S. Broadens Ties With Central Asia

By Don Hill, Bob McMahon and Aurora Gallego

Prague, 22 July 1997 (RFE/RL) - A major foreign policy speech yesterday by U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott on the U.S. role in Central Asia and the Caucasus attracts press attention to that area of the world. Also, the Western press considers the hound that -- for the moment -- isn't barking: Northern Ireland.

ASSOCIATED PRESS: U.S. wants to avoid replay of 19th century struggle in Central Asia

The U.S.-based news agency says today in an analysis that the Talbott speech was unexpectedly tough on human rights. The analysis says: "The prize is a vast reserve of oil and gas in the Caspian Sea basin. And the United States wants to avoid a replay of the Great Game, a 19th century struggle for influence in the Caucasus among the major powers of the era."

AP says: "A growing U.S. interest in the region has been underlined by high profile visits from their leaders to Washington. Eduard Shevardnadze of Georgia last week and Heidar Aliyev of Azerbaijan next week. First Lady Hillary Clinton will visit Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan in the fall. The other nations are Armenia, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan.

FINANCIAL TIMES: U.S. interest in Central Asia emphasizes human rights

The Financial Times gives the speech more attention than major U.S. newspapers. In an analysis by Bruce Clark and Heather Bourbeau in Washington, the newspaper notes growing concern for the area by U.S. business interests. The writers say: "The United States will promote human rights and democracy, as well as free energy and investment flows, in its policy towards the southern republics of the former Soviet Union."

The analysis says, "In a speech on U.S. policy to the oil-rich region, Mr. Strobe Talbott regretted the human rights record of many of its governments and warned of dire results if political and economic reforms were to fail" Clark and Bourbeau write: "His speech, a reflection of sharply rising interest in the region among U.S. politicians and businessmen, placed an unexpectedly strong emphasis on human and political rights."

FINANCIAL TIMES: U.S. welcomes relations with Georgia as conduit for Caspian oil

Bruce Clark pointed out yesterday Great Britain's traditional connections to Central Asia. He wrote: "Flashman, the unscrupulous hero of Victorian Britain's imperial adventures in Afghanistan (resurfaces) in the life of another great power (In Talbott's speech)."

Clark said: "The rapidly growing U.S. interest in the former Soviet south, underlined by a series of high-profile visits from regional leaders, reflects more than a taste for light historical fiction. Mr. Nicholas Burns, State Department spokesman, has spelled out one reason that Mr. Eduard Shevardnadze is getting a red-carpet welcome on his first U.S. visit as Georgia's elected president. 'The Caspian (energy) reserves next to the Persian Gulf reserves are probably the greatest in the world,' he said."

Clark wrote: "President Bill Clinton is understood to have told Mr. Shevardnadze he welcomed Georgia's role as one of the conduits -- along with Chechnya and the Russian Black Sea region -- for initial Caspian output, starting this year."

Northern Ireland

On the topic of Northern Ireland, three leading European newspapers write today of reborn hopes because of a new cessation of fighting but also a need for realism in negotiations and expectations.

POLITIKEN: Peace negotiations must be pursued more realistically

The Danish daily says in an editorial: "The excitement over the ceasefire in 1994 and the break in 1996 are harbingers that this time the negotiations must be pursued more realistically. Both parties must be clear that a peace plan cannot meet all demands."

ALGEMEEN DAGBLAD: Blair's openness creates new climate for negotiations

An editorial in the Dutch daily says: "Almost immediately after taking office, Prime Minister Tony Blair prepared the way for negotiations over Northern Ireland. In contrast to his conservative predecessor John Major, (Blair) showed openness to the political arm of the IRA, Sinn Fein. And he proved realistic by not demanding that he could only talk with the IRA until they had given up their arms. Now exists another climate. The seemingly inevitable wave of violence is now no longer unavoidable."

LE FIGARO: Truce worth more than a postponement of terror

The Paris newspaper says: "The truce accepted by the IRA is worth more than a postponement of terror. The population was disappointed after the ceasefire of 1994 was interrupted after 17 months by the underground fighters of the Irish Republican Army. This population hopes now that this failure had taught a lesson. This time the British government must not let their opposition wriggle in the net for too long."