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Western Press Review: Toward NATO Expansion And Peace In Northern Ireland

Prague, 17 October 1997 (RFE/RL) - Western press commentators are focusing on NATO's coming expansion and the efforts of its Stabilization Force in Bosnia. They have also been looking at Britain's latest effort to resolve the centuries-old problem of Northern Ireland's status.

INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE: A declaration of NATO's intent is long overdue

In a commentary today Frederick Bonnart asks, "If NATO is to grow bigger and bigger, what for?" He writes: "The enlargement process is moving ahead rapidly at NATO, in the capitals of present members and in the three invited countries (Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic) to meet the deadline of April 1999. Behind this well-organized effort, pressure is building from other countries to ensure an invitation then." For Bonnart, this suggests that "the danger...of seeing the present organization of 16 members increase not only to 19 by 1999 but to 25 and perhaps 30 a few years later." He says: "NATO...change is now in full swing, yet no plan exists for financing, decision-making and above all the new direction of this changed organization."

Bonnart continues: "NATO's leaders have stated that they will review the further invitation process at the next summit meeting, and have singled out Romania and Slovenia for praise. That is being interpreted by these countries as a firm engagement...At the same time, Austria is examining accession. At NATO, Austria's candidacy would be well received (because) the country is politically, economically and culturally part of Western Europe....So there could be at least three candidates in 1999." Bonnart concludes: "A declaration of (NATO) members' intent is long overdue. It should not have to wait for the next summit meeting."

NEW YORK TIMES: Discussion has already drifted into troubling territory

The paper, which has long opposed NATO's expansion to the East, yesterday devoted an editorial to the start of the U.S. Senate's critical debate on the issue. The paper said that the "discussion has already drifted into troubling territory." It wrote: "Because the Clinton Administration has offered no compelling security justification for enlargement, a variety of dubious rationales are being advanced....The most disturbing articulation of NATO's purpose...would frame expansion partly as a means to isolate Russia. That Cold-War approach is likely to boomerang....Positioning NATO today as an alliance against a potential Russian threat can only strengthen the anti-democratic forces in Russia."

The editorial also criticized "another proposition (that) would radically expand NATO's purpose from the territorial defense of Europe to the defense of common American and European interests anywhere in the world." It called that "a startling idea, with all sorts of implications," explaining: "A NATO claim to conduct military operations in the Middle East, Asia or Africa would certainly be a surprise to countries in those regions. It might also alarm Americans, who thought that the Atlantic alliance merely obliged them to come to the defense of European democracies." In conclusion the writer says that accepting the idea of "a global NATO (would) mark a tectonic shift in international affairs and require the negotiation of an entirely new NATO charter."

LOS ANGELES TIMES: Partition would be morally wrong and strategically reckless

Writing yesterday in the paper NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana explained "why (the alliance) must persevere" in its efforts to stabilize the situation in Bosnia. Solana wrote: "It has become fashionable to be pessimistic about the peace process in Bosnia. Some critics want to do away with the framework established by the Dayton peace accords and let the hard-liners and extremists fulfill their evil dreams of ethnic purity imposed by force. For that is what their proposed approach --'partition'-- would achieve." The former Spanish foreign minister continued: "Partition may seem a simple fix to the complex and sometimes frustrating task of implementing Dayton. However, partition would be morally wrong and strategically reckless. It would have us imprudently endanger the peace just when our active approach to implementing Dayton has begun to pay off."

Solana ended his commentary with an exhortation: "Now," he wrote, "is n-o-t the time to hesitate or to send contradictory signals. Let us stay the course of our common approach, set out at Dayton. Perseverance will ultimately be rewarded."

WASHINGTON POST: The meeting intended to end three decades of violent conflict

Most press commentary on British Prime Minister Tony Blair's meeting in Belfast earlier this week with Irish Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams calls the occasion "historic." Correspondent Dan Balz from the Northern Ireland capital noted that this was "the first meeting between a British Prime Minister and an Irish republican leader since Ireland was partitioned in 1921." Balz wrote: "The meeting was designed to push forward fragile peace negotiations intended to end three decades of violent conflict between Northern Ireland's Protestant majority and a Catholic minority, many of whom want to reunite with the Irish Republic. But in a measure of the difficulty ahead, Blair, after the talks, faced furious Protestant demonstrators who jostled him and called him a traitor for...sharking hands with Adams." The analysis also said that, "in his private meeting with Adams, Blair reportedly told (him that) the participants in the (current Northern Ireland) talks had a historic opportunity to bring about peace...'If we don't seize it now, we may not see it again in my lifetime,' he told Adams..."

BOSTON GLOBE: Symbolism often takes precedence over substance on the issue of Northern Ireland

In an analysis from Dublin Kevin Cullen said that "symbolism often takes precedence over substance on the issue of Northern Ireland." He explained: "On the face of it, a handshake might not seem that big a deal. But as the British and Irish governments seek to defuse a conflict that has sustained itself for decades --often with symbolism-- the action Monday was yet another illustration of Blair's propensity for throwing British convention to the wind. Indeed, Blair's aides said the handshake was one in series of calculated gestures aimed at convincing extremists from both traditions in Northern Ireland that he is willing to try new approaches to solve an old problem." Cullen continued: "The next gesture could be an apology for and a new inquiry into Bloody Sunday in 1972, when British troops shot and killed 14 unarmed civil rights marchers. Blair has already apologized for London's half-hearted relief efforts during the potato blight of 1845-50, when 1.5 million Irish died and another one million emigrated."

NEW YORK TIMES: Northern Ireland has its most promising chance for peace since 1921

In an editorial it was said that "Blair was right to confer the legitimacy of a meeting and handshake on...the Sinn Fein leader, despite complaints from Ulster Protestant Unionist politicians." The paper wrote that, "though Adams and Sinn Fein have a history of condoning IRA terrorism, they have met the reasonable conditions set by the British and Irish governments and the American mediator, George Mitchell, for full participation in the Northern Ireland talks." Adams, the editorial continued, "cannot escape his share of responsibility for (earlier IRA) murders. But he is also responsible for persuading the IRA to commit itself to the present cease-fire and for bringing Sinn Fein into peace talks premised on the principle of majority consent to any change in Northern Ireland's status." The paper concluded: "Thanks to Adams' persuasion, the responsible moderation of the unionist leader, David Trimble, and most of all the energetic leadership of Prime Minister Blair, Northern Ireland has its most promising chance for peace since 1921."