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Western Press Review: Toddling Step In Palestine; Large Outcry Over Iran

Prague, 30 September 1997 (RFE/RL -- World attention is focusing on the Mideast, where Israelis and Palestinians tentatively are beginning to negotiate again and where Iran -- according to U.S. allegations -- continues to pursue a nuclear war capability. Western press commentary takes on both issues.

NEW YORK TIMES: Modest progress has been made so far

Steven Lee Myers emphasizes what he calls the "modest" progress made so far. He writes: "After meeting with Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, Israel and the Palestinians agreed Monday to resume committee talks that broke down more than six months ago, a modest step that administration officials said left difficult issues of security and Jewish settlements unresolved."

Myers says the agreement to talk is limited. He writes: "In talks leading up to Monday's meeting, the Palestinians had pressed for a written commitment by Israel to respect the time-out in the construction or expansion of settlements that Albright called for on her trip. Last week, Netanyahu announced that Israel would build 300 new homes in a settlement on the West Bank, prompting a rebuke from Albright. Instead, the Israelis and Palestinians could agree only to take up the definition and content of a halt in expanding settlements and other unilateral steps when they meet."

WASHINGTON POST: The two sides have indicated they want to step back from confrontation

John M. Goshko writes today that Albright carried the hopes of both sides over the threshold when she entered talks to help Israel and Palestine to approach each other again. He says: "Israel and the Palestinians had looked to Albright to find a way to get the process back on track after it had bogged down in mutual anger and recrimination. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government has accused the Palestinian Authority and its president, Yasser Arafat, of failing to crack down sufficiently on Palestinian terrorists who have killed large numbers of Israelis in suicide bomb attacks. The Palestinians have reacted angrily to the Netanyahu government's policy of building Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Arab East Jerusalem and sealing Palestinian areas from Israel in retaliation for suicide bombings. "But, starting with a visit by Albright to the Middle East earlier this month, the two sides have indicated that they wanted her to find a way for them to step back from confrontation and start talking again."

Goshko says: "Albright went out of her way to emphasize that the announcement was far from a breakthrough and represented, at best, tentative progress. In addition, the delicate and knotted language in which the agreement was couched underscored the extreme sensitivity of the issues that the negotiators now must tackle."

FRANKFURTER RUNDSCHAU: Both sides seem prepared to make oral commitments only

In a commentary Inge Gunther contends that the agenda for Mideast talks is clear but that the commitment of the parties is less so. She writes: "The points on the agenda -- intended to shore up the collapsing trust between the two parties -- are clear: they are all part of a package which the Israelis had been seeking to use to mitigate Palestinian anger at the settlements policies in East Jerusalem." She says: "It seemed that both sides were prepared to make oral commitments only on this issue. It was also questionable whether Israel was prepared to make more partial withdrawals from the West Bank, something on which the Palestinians are insisting."

LES ECHOS: The lack of courage in the White House is surprising

The paper expresses surprises at what it considers U.S. timidity in asserting itself with Israel. An editorial says: "Israel has agreed to negotiate with Palestinian autonomy officials, because doubtlessly it is aware of the boundaries it cannot override with regard to its American ally and protector. But nobody has any illusions about the ability of U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright to assert herself in seeking meaningful progress in the peace process. The lack of courage in the White House is the more surprising since a mighty section of the Jewish community in the United States -- 84 percent -- is in favor of establishing a Palestine state. This is unprecedented - and advocates pressure be brought to bear on the government of Benjamin Netanyahu."

Iran's Alleged Drive To Arm Itself

Substantial press commentary today looks also at another Mideast issue -- Iran's alleged drive to arm itself offensively, and the United States' alleged bullying of nations accused of helping.

NEW YORK TIMES: Senior officials of French Total SA have permanent suites in Arab countries

Youssef M. Ibrahim writes in a news feature today that a natural gas deal announced over the weekend by the French firm Total SA and Iran has been at least three years in the making. Ibrahim says: "On any evening in the last three years, a visitor to Baghdad, Iraq's capital, could spot senior officials of the French oil company, Total SA, in the lounge of the plush Al-Rasheed Hotel where they have permanent suites. Similarly, all around Tehran, French oil experts can be encountered in the luxurious restaurants of Shemiran, the northern suburb of the Iranian capital where the air is clearer and where oil companies of every nationality keep their executives in villas equipped with swimming pools."

The article continues: "France's 2,000 million dollars agreement with the National Iranian Oil Co. to produce 2,000 million cubic feet of natural gas from the South Pars field has been in the making for some years. And the announcement of the huge deal has raised questions as to whether Washington's policy of economic sanctions to isolate countries like Iraq, Iran, Libya, Cuba and others has been effective beyond preventing American companies from tapping those countries' resources while competitors, mostly from Europe and Asia, help themselves."

NEW YORK TIMES: Are economic sanctions weapons?

In a news analysis David E. Sanger writes that the U.S. threat of sanctions against foreign companies trading with Iran are becoming increasingly controversial internationally. He writes: "The issue of how to use economic sanctions as a weapon of foreign policy has bedeviled and divided the Clinton administration over the last five years.' Sanger adds: "If Clinton imposes the toughest sanctions available -- a threat the State Department and the White House carefully avoided making today - Clinton will re-open the battle with the European Union that began over American penalties against foreign firms that use formerly American property in Cuba."

He goes on: "If, on the other hand, the president seeks the diplomatic way out, imposing light sanctions or none at all, he runs the risk of undercutting his own commitment to use all powers available to him to fight state-sponsored terrorism. His declarations about getting the world community together on the issue could ring hollow."

WASHINGTON POST: The denial of Iranian proliferation comes first

An editorial today favors a firm U.S. stance to suppress Iran's weaponry ambitions. The newspaper says: "There is no country that people everywhere would rather see without missiles and nuclear, chemical or biological warheads than Iran. The regime flouts the international rules and menaces other states with terrorism, subversion and anathema. Hence the concern heard from Israel, Saudi Arabia and the United States about the technology flowing from Russia that enables Iran to extend its special-weapons reach well beyond 700 miles."

The editorial contends: "For several years the United States has been after the Russians, most recently last week when Vice President Gore addressed President Boris Yeltsin. Mr. Yeltsin has always categorically denied charges of authorized proliferation, but his assurances dissolve in the corruption of the Russian military-industrial complex." And concludes: "At some point Israel and Iran, like Israel and Iraq, must be brought into the circle of coexistence in the Middle East. Meanwhile, the deterrence of war by the denial of Iranian proliferation -- an objective Americans share with Israelis, Saudis, Europeans and many others -- comes first."