Prague, 9 September 1997 (RFE/RL) - Seven months after taking office, U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright today undertakes her first official trip to the Middle East. She is going first to Israel and on Thursday is scheduled to meet with Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat in the West Bank city of Jericho.
Later, Albright is also due to visit Syria, Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia on a swing that the Clinton Administration hopes will restore some momentum to the stalled Middle East peace process. Commentary in the U.S. press, however, largely rates the Secretary's chances of doing so as low.
NEW YORK TIMES: Madeleine Albright will need all her vaunted bluntness and determination to keep instability at bay.
The paper says that "Albright could hardly have found a dicier (that is, more difficult) time to make her visit to the Middle East." In an editorial, the paper writes: "Not only has the peace effort between Israel and the Palestinians all but collapsed, but regional powers like Saudi Arabia and Iran are asserting themselves in ways that may undermine America's leadership in the area. As Albright works her way through the region this week, she will need all her vaunted bluntness and determination to keep instability at bay. Washington's role in the Middle East has not been as problematic since before the Persian Gulf War in 1991."
The Times continues: "A resumption of peace talks (between Israelis and Palestinians) would help Albright hold together the American-led (Gulf-War) coalition.....Albright cannot untangle (all the Mid-East) problems in one visit. But if she fails to budge anyone, the decline of the peace effort and erosion on American leadership in the Middle East could quickly get worse."
THE LOS ANGELES TIMES: Israeli peace agreements hang by a thread
Marjorie Miller in her report from Jerusalem says that "the Arab-Israeli peace process is at a nadir and few here expect (Albright's) visit to do any good." Marjorie Miller analyses: "Israeli peace agreements hang by a thread, Israel's war with Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon is intensifying and political observers see little chance for major advances between Israel and Syria." She continues: "Although...Arafat initiated a round-up of Islamic extremists on Monday, arresting about 30 suspected members of violent groups ahead of Albright's visit, U.S. officials said that the first item on her agenda is still to press him for greater security cooperation following two multiple suicide bombings in Jerusalem that have killed 20 Israelis since July 30. (Albright will) deliver the message that he must clamp down on the violent groups if he is to count on any more U.S. aid and support."
BOSTON GLOBE: It would be difficult to overstate the level of disgust and distrust that both sides feel
Jerusalem correspondents, Charles Sennett and David Marcus, take a similar view today, writing that Albright arrives in Israel "with tensions running high and expectations for success in reviving the peace process running low." In their analysis, the two write: "It would be difficult to overstate the level of disgust and distrust that both sides feel, and that Albright will have to confront, in the wake of last Thursday's triple suicide bombing in Jerusalem....Only 10 hours after the bombing, Israel suffered its most costly battle in 12 years of occupation of a 'buffer zone' inside Lebanon when a dozen commandos were killed in an ambush. Ratcheting up the tense mood, the armed wing of the militant group Hamas, which claimed responsibility for (the) bombings, has vowed more attacks."
SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: Has Arafat now realized that the bombs also affect him ?
A German commentator, Josef Joffe also notes that Arafat's round-up of terrorist suspects came "just in time for the start of...Albright's trip..." He asks: "Why did this not happen a week or a month ago?" and answers with a few more --rhetorical-- questions: "Has Arafat now realized that the bombs also affect him, that Hamas and (Islamic) Jihad are not just murdering Israelis but also want to deprive him of power? Or is it just one of those tactical moves with which he is attempting to make up to Madeleine Albright, the representative of power, who, alongside Israel, is most important in his calculations?"
LOS ANGELES TIMES: To see Bosnian Serbs turn on their fellow Bosnian Serbs with such anger was stunning to many veteran observers
Recent developments in Bosnia also receive some attention in the current U.S. press. Writing from the northern Bosnian Serb city of Banja Luka, Tracey Wilkinson describes events there yesterday : "Deep divisions among the Bosnian Serbs were on display...when supporters of (former President and) suspected war criminal Radovan Karadzic attempted to hold a 'unity' rally but were practically run out of town." For Wilkinson, "the tension reflects a deepening crisis within the Bosnian Serb half of this country, one that Washington hopes to exploit to gain more cooperation from Serbs in implementing the U.S.-brokered (Dayton) peace accords that ended the Bosnian war 21 months ago....Hatred and conflict are standard-issue in the former Yugoslavia, but to see Bosnian Serbs turn on their fellow Bosnian Serbs with such anger was stunning to many veteran observers."
NEW YORK TIMES: The recent focus on Karadzic has an air of unreality about it.
Columnist Thomas Friedman said that the "recent (U.S.-NATO) focus on Karadzic has an air of unreality about it." He explained: "To listen to Clinton (Administration) officials, if only Karadzic were removed the Dayton peace accords would fall into place. Hardly. The fact is, arresting Karadzic will solve the Karadzic problem --the problem of an evil, indicted war criminal still operating under NATO's nose. But the Dayton problem is something else." Friedman continued: "The architects of Dayton stopped the war by promising all sides what they wanted," promises he regards as impossible to fulfill. He concluded: "If there is a strategic reason to arrest Karadzic, it's not that it would open the way to fully implementing Dayton, but that it might make it easier to manage Dayton's likely failure....But forget this nonsense that the Serbian people are just confused and misled and will want what the (Bosnian) Muslims want if only the evil Karadzic is removed. Karadzic reflects widely held views in Serbian society."
NEW YORK TIMES: Washington is right to insist that the airwaves be free, but it will do itself a disservice if it practices censorship to reach that goal
In a recent editorial the paper discussed NATO's efforts last week to control inflammatory television broadcasts in Bosnia. The paper wrote that "silencing the offending stations is not the way to handle the problem...It ill suits an alliance of democratic nations (NATO) to impose censorship in the pursuit of peace." The editorial concluded: "The manipulation of television and radio broadcasts is a long, dishonorable tradition in Bosnia. Although the Dayton peace accords called for independent broadcasting, Muslim and Croatian authorities have shown no more inclination to liberate their channels than have the Bosnian Serbs. Washington is right to insist that the airwaves be free, but it will do itself a disservice if it practices censorship to reach that goal."