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Western Press Review: The U.S. Law That Commands The World

Prague, 1 October 1997 (RFE/RL) -- Impending U.S. invocation of a U.S. law mandating sanctions against companies engaging in energy-related business dealings with Iran has captured the attention of Western press commentators. There also is commentary about antidemocratic developments in Serbia.

NEW YORK TIMES: Most European countries dispute American contentions

The U.S. Sanctions Act is ill-advised says an editorial today. The newspaper says: "The 2,000-million-dollar Iranian gas-field development contract signed by the Total Oil Group of France, Gazprom of Russia and Petronas of Malaysia is doubly unfortunate. It will provide new funds to a government that is exporting terrorism, developing nuclear weapons and disrupting peace efforts between Israel and the Arab world. The contract could also trigger the first application of the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act, an ill-advised law that attempts to impose American penalties on foreign companies doing energy business with Iran or Libya."

The writer says: "Most European countries dispute American contentions about Iranian terrorism and nuclear weapons programs and insist that maintaining what they call a critical dialogue with Teheran is the most effective way to influence Iranian policies. In the case of France, with its extensive and long-established business dealings with Iran, this approach is a smokescreen for subordinating global security to commercial gain. France has also unhelpfully appointed itself the world's leading challenger of American diplomacy and economic ideas."

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: American laws are valid in the United States, not in France

Commentator Rudolph Chimelli, writing from Paris, says today that even if U.S. President Bill Clinton heads off a trade war by applying his power to delay action on sanctions for 180 days, the issue will generate a trans-Atlantic trial of strength, in which France will be backed by the European Union. Chimelli quotes with evident approval French Premier Lionel Jospin as saying on television: "American laws are valid in the United States, not in France."

The German commentator also says: "Once again, the French, in American eyes, are not behaving correctly on a trade issue. A law named after Senators Alfonse D'Amato and Edward Kennedy threatens to boycott foreign companies which invest more than 40 million dollars in the energy business of Iran or Libya."

FIGARO: American retaliation would be considered illegal and unacceptable

A news analysis yesterday by Baudouin Bollaert contrasts U.S. and French policies toward Iran. He says that "Iran is considered a terrorist state in Washington -- a state, moreover, that is seeking to acquire the technology of nuclear weapons." He writes: "But according to the Quai d'Orsay, Total's decision is compatible with French policy toward Iran, a policy that consists of developing normal trade relations while maintaining a hard political line -- a policy sometimes called 'critical dialogue."

At EU headquarters in Brussels, the analysis continues, "It's obviously the potential crisis with Washington that has many officials worried. The (EU's Executive) Commission let it be known in advance that any American retaliation against Total would be considered illegal and unacceptable."

WASHINGTON POST: This dispute is a major mark against American diplomacy

An editorial today calls the U.S.-France confrontation a failure of U.S. foreign policy. The editorial, like that in The New York Times, questions the good sense of the Sanctions Act. The writer says: "The deterioration of this dispute into open political conflict among allies is a major mark against American diplomacy." The editorial concludes: "In the case of Iran, the United States needs to seek ways to slow delivery on and repetition of the new contract and to keep France enlisted in the constant struggle against terrorism. Congress must ask itself whether punitive policy imperatives forced on a president are smart."

FRANKFURTER ALLGEMEINE ZEITUNG: Europeans are angered by American trade imperialism

An unsigned commentary calls the Sanctions Act a form of trade imperialism. It says: "The Europeans are justifiably angered by this form of American trade imperialism, because it seems that Washington is blind in one eye, itself involved while threatening. In the port of Dubai alone there are cargo ships every day heading for the Iranian port of Bandard Abbas loaded with American electronics and 'dual use' goods worth several million dollars. Two FBI officials stationed there, who should be stopping this business, helplessly watch the activities."

WALL STREET JOURNAL: A meeting to prevent relations from veering toward disaster

A news analysis today by Brian Coleman, who writes from Brussels, says a meeting previously scheduled for today in Washington on related issues has a chance to ease the confrontation. Coleman writes: "The United States and the European Union will try at a high-level meeting today in Washington to keep their trade relations from veering toward disaster."

He says: "The U.S. administration, meanwhile, is already under pressure from the U.S. Congress to punish the companies involved in the Iran deal. Today's meeting will give the two sides a much-needed opportunity to prevent the week's events from deteriorating into a full-blown conflict." Coleman writes: "Failure to reach an agreement could prompt the EU to resume its complaint at the World Trade Organization, which it suspended in April when the two sides began trying to negotiate a settlement."

LOS ANGELES TIMES: The final step in the collapse of the most serious opposition

Events this week in Serbia, Tracy Wilkinson writes today, may have ended the life of the democratic opposition there. She says in a news analysis from Vienna: "Zoran Djindjic, Belgrade's first non-communist mayor since World War II and a prominent opposition leader, was ousted yesterday in an apparently fatal blow to the fledgling pro-democracy movement in Yugoslavia. Djindjic immediately branded his removal as an illegal coup. An unsavory alliance of nationalist extremists, Socialists loyal to dictator Slobodan Milosevic and some of Djindjic's own former allies joined to sack the mayor after less than eight months in office.

"They also fired the editors of Belgrade's only opposition television station, a move that outraged students and foes of Yugoslavia's repressive regime." She says: "Djindjic's ouster was the final step in the collapse of the most serious opposition ever to Milosevic, the former communist widely blamed for the bloody wars that have racked Bosnia and the rest of the former Yugoslavia through most of this decade."

INDEPENDENT: Vitality still prevails in the Serbian opposition

A commentary today says that the Serbian opposition actually is demonstrating tenacity. The newspaper writes: "Demonstrations in Belgrade last night indicated that there is vitality still in the Serbian opposition, whose reversals this year appeared to have been completed by the sacking of the popular mayor of Belgrade and of editors at an independent TV channel."