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Western Press Review: Caspian Oil Draws Worlds' Attention To Caucasus

Prague, 28 July 1997 (RFE/RL) -- The visit to Washington Tuesday of Azerbaijan's president, Heydar Aliyev, following a recent U.S. stopover by Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze, attracted some Western press attention to the Caucasus this weekend. The press also examined chaos in Cambodia.

WASHINGTON POST: Oil and geography propels Azerbaijan to forefront of U.S. foreign policy

Discussion in "The Washington Post" and in "The Financial Times of London" of Aliyev's visit and his scheduled meeting Friday with U.S. President Bill Clinton centers on the power of oil to win influence in the U.S. capital.

In a news analysis in yesterday's "Washington Post," Thomas W. Lippman wrote: "The visiting head of state who will have lunch with President Clinton this week and stay at Blair House as an honored guest has an unusual background: a former general in the Soviet Union's KGB security forces who was dismissed from the Politburo for alleged corruption a decade ago. But that was then, this is now. Today Heydar Aliyev, 73, is the elected president of the Republic of Azerbaijan, a small but vital central Asian country propelled into the forefront of U.S. interests by oil and geography.

Led by Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott, the Clinton administration has developed an ambitious strategy for the former Soviet republics of Central Asia, aimed at bolstering their independence from Moscow, limiting the influence of Iran, and settling regional conflicts to expedite development of the vast oil reserves beneath the Caspian Sea."

Lippman wrote: "To Azerbaijan's neighbor and arch-rival, Armenia, the administration's courtship of Aliyev shows the power of oil to sanitize what the Armenians depict as an unsavory and oppressive regime. To administration officials and Azerbaijan's supporters, Aliyev deserves credit for stabilizing his country, undertaking economic reforms and defying neighboring Iran by encouraging U.S. oil companies to participate in developing the Caspian fields.

"Even before he arrives, Aliyev has administration support for one of his key objectives, an end to a ban on aid to his country imposed by Congress because of Azerbaijan's territorial conflict with neighboring Armenia."

FINANCIAL TIMES: Azerbaijan is linchpin in U.S. battle to control Caspian oil

Writing in an analysis from Moscow, Charles Glover says today: "Mr. Aliyev will be the second ruler from the Caucasus to receive red-carpet treatment from the United States this month, as the region becomes a linchpin in the U.S. strategy to control Caspian Sea oil reserves. (Shevardnadze) also met with Mr. Clinton two weeks ago."

Glover writes: "For ten years, Azerbaijan has been fighting with Armenia over the Nagorno Karabakh enclave. But U.S. efforts to mediate have been hindered by a ban on aid to Azerbaijan imposed by the U.S. Congress. Congressional leaders have cited human rights concerns as the reason for the ban, though Azerbaijan officials blame in on a powerful Armenian lobby in Washington."

FINANCIAL TIMES: Slow reforms in Caucasus threatens proposed oil pipeline

In another news analysis today, Frances Williams writes from Geneva about the slow pace of U.N.-sponsored talks on fighting in the Georgian Abkhazia province. Here, too, he says, oil figures in world interest in what might be otherwise only a local issue.

Williams writes: "Three days of United Nations-sponsored discussions between representatives of Georgia and the breakaway province of Abkhazia ended at the weekend with agreement on little more than to go on talking. Mr. Liviu Bota, the UN's special representative for Georgia, said that the meeting nevertheless had achieved its primary purpose, which was to reduce the threat of renewed fighting when the present mandate of Russian peacekeeping troops expires later this month."

Williams says: "Georgia's nascent economic recovery, as well as plans to build a lucrative oil pipeline across its territory could be jeopardized by renewed violence."

WASHINGTON TIMES: Shevardnadze bringing U.S. into geopolitical heart of Eurasia

Commentator Georgie Ann Geyer interviewed Shevardnadze during his Washington call, and found him altogether charming, effective, and a valuable influence over his oil-rich region. She wrote in yesterday's "Times": "Today, (Shevardnadze) has been so successful that not only is little Georgia, with only five million people, one of the prime examples of democracy and free-enterprise development in the world, but it has been accepted as the strategic pivot of the oil-rich and increasingly important Caucasus and Central Asia regions that until 1991 remained under Moscow's communist control. The results of his meetings with President Clinton and others here were substantive. "

Geyer said: "Despite his successes -- or perhaps because of them -- Mr. Shevardnadze often looks weary these days. There are few world leaders who have been through as much and have ended up as charming and as intellectually honest as he is. As Soviet foreign minister, he was pivotal in deconstructing and reforming the greatest totalitarian state in our times. As president of Georgia, he is now midwifing the oil of the Caspian for the industrialized world and bringing the United States squarely into the geopolitical heart of Eurasia."


NEW YORK TIMES: Foreign powers unlikely to back royalist-Khmer Rouge alliance

In Cambodia this month, strongman Hun Sen seems to have emerged on top after fierce fighting between his forces and those of rival leader, and former uneasy ally, Prince Norodom Ranariddh. As Seth Mydans wrote in an analysis two weeks ago: "As the booming of big guns echoed through the city one week ago, the Cambodian defense minister described the unfolding coup as a mopping-up operation.' And viewed over a long perspective, that may be what it was.

The two leaders whose troops were fighting -- Prince Norodom Ranariddh and Hun Sen -- had shared power as Cambodia's co-prime ministers since 1993. But they were bitter enemies from a decade-long civil war that paused with the signing of a peace treaty in 1991 but never really ended. Their battle last weekend was the final eruption of long-simmering tensions between the partners in a coalition government in which the two rivals continued their struggle for dominance."

He wrote: "The result is a new, postwar chapter in Cambodia in which Hun Sen is finally the undisputed leader," and predicted: "Though his actions have been condemned abroad, foreign powers are unlikely to back any new alliance between royalists and the Khmer Rouge, as they did in the 1980s."

WASHINGTON POST: Both sides agree to elections, return of opposition politicians

In yesterday's edition, Keith B. Richburg wrote in an analysis from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia: "The United States and its regional allies appeared Saturday night to be closing ranks around a new Cambodian peace plan that would force strongman Hun Sen to allow the return of opposition politicians who fled the country, agree to some disarmament and neutralization of his armed forces, and hold elections as promised next year."

He wrote: "Among the points of agreement was a recognition, even by Hun Sen, that the two dozen or so members of Ranariddh's decimated Funcinpec party who fled Cambodia in fear for their lives should be allowed to return, that their safety should be guaranteed, and that they should be able to freely and without intimidation select a new party leader to replace Ranariddh. There was also broad agreement that new elections should be held by the scheduled date, May 1998,and that all parties should be allowed to freely compete, officials said."