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Western Press Review: Other Issues Also Shine Behind Iraqi War Clouds

By Don Hill/Esther Pan/Dora Slaba

Prague, 10 February 1998 (RFE/RL) -- War clouds over Iraq continue to attract most of the lightning bolts hurled by Western press commentators, but a sprinkling of other issues also occupy press attention.

WASHINGTON POST: Bulgaria has outlived its post-Communist complexes

Bulgarian President Petar Stoyanov, in Washington for a state visit, asserts in a commentary published today by The Washington Post that, "Bulgaria has outlived its post-Communist complexes," and is ready to be a full participant in Western institutions. Stoyanov writes: Like a desperate, hopeless emigrant crushed by 45 years of degrading communism and a period of post-communist lethargy, Bulgaria boarded the ship bound for the free world just 12 months ago, carrying with it stable democratic institutions, the rule of law and a free market economy."

Stoyanov denies that Bulgaria accepted Soviet domination. He writes: "My country is said to have been the most loyal satellite of the former Soviet Union. Allegedly, it assumed this role of its own free will. The facts are different." The Bulgarian president contends: "My country's strategic choice of membership in the European Union and NATO is no hostile act vis-a-vis Russia. It corresponds fully with our determination to develop our relations with that vast state on the basis of mutual benefit and respect of our sovereignty and national dignity." He says: "My country no longer wishes to act as a mere bridge between the NATO members and Russia. Now it prefers to build many bridges, together with other countries."

HANDELSBLATT: The IMF problem lies in the top management

From Dusseldorf, Handelsblatt complains today in an editorial that the International Monetary Fund ignored lessons of recent history by leaping into this winter's world economic turmoil and throwing money around Asia. The newspaper says: "Characteristic for the period in office of French IMF chief Michel Camdessus is the lone figure he has cut in an unholy alliance with the Americans in an enormous support operation at the expense of the taxpayer. That the Western banks and other capital endowments which operate the major section of the capital flow were not drawn into the crisis management in time has had fatal consequences. Already during the first crisis in Mexico at the turn of 1994-95, Camdessus and the U.S. Treasury, without consultations, set up a huge support package at the expense of all those contributing to the fund. The fact that the top IMF people, a few years later, ignored the same considerations underlines that the IMF problem lies in the top management."

SUDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: The IMF cannot be said to have made any serious mistakes

Commenting in the Suddeutsche Zeitung, Helmut Maier-Mannhart rebuts criticisms of the International Monetary Fund for allegedly precipitous actions in Asia, Critical first aid doesn't have time for the niceties of full workups, he writes in effect. Maier-Mannhart says: "The acute risk of the Asian crisis spreading to epidemic proportions and affecting the entire world economy seems to have been averted for the time being. The measures undertaken in the countries affected are felt by financial markets to be confidence-building."

He writes: "In a precarious situation swift action was required. Everything possible had to be done to prevent any further loss of confidence. Above all, the decline of the currencies in question had to be halted in order to avert total economic collapse. In circumstances such as these, meticulous expert appraisals are of no use and, viewed in this light, the IMF cannot be said to have made any serious mistakes."

LOS ANGELES TIMES: Responsibility for the holdup falls on Sen. Jesse Helms

A U.S. senator's intransigent stand against ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty occupied the Los Angeles Times in an editorial yesterday. The newspaper opined: "In 1996 President Clinton became the first world leader to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, which prohibits all nuclear weapon tests and other nuclear explosions. But the long-sought pact, which has since been signed by 147 other countries, still awaits U.S. Senate consideration. Responsibility for the holdup falls on Sen. Jesse Helms, (Republican from the Southern state of North Carolina and) chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee."

The editorial concluded: "A few weeks ago four former chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who together have served Presidents Carter, Reagan, Bush and Clinton, endorsed Senate ratification of the test ban treaty. They recognize that its implementation would not diminish national security or the integrity of the U.S. nuclear arsenal. Surely their expertise ought to count for more in the Senate than the transparently ideological agenda of Helms."

Newspapers in Germany, the United States and Britain carry commentary today on the putative lack of support by the United States' Arab friends for military action against Iraq.

SUDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: Has Saddam retained some common sense ?

Josef Joffe writes in the Suddeutsche Zeitung, "Left in the lurch by all Arab states except Kuwait and Bahrain, the United States has reacted differently this time from the way it did during the 1990-91 Gulf War. In 1990-91 America strongly urged Israel not to retaliate against Iraq, and the Israelis exercised unaccustomed restraint even after 39 Scud missiles had hit targets in Israel. This time, Israel said no in advance -- even though it had been given carte blanche by US Defense Secretary William Cohen in person. Iraq reacted immediately, which was equally untypical but hugely sensible. Iraq's ambassador to the United Nations gave an assurance that in the event of a US attack Baghdad would not let loose missiles at Israel." Joffe asks rhetorically, "Has Saddam retained some residual degree of common sense?"

NEW YORK TIMES: It is disappointing that American allies feel compelled to engage in a diplomatic charade

The New York Times editorializes today: "Despite considerable coaxing of Arab allies in recent weeks, the Clinton administration has failed to reassemble the coalition of nations that fought alongside America in the Persian Gulf war." The newspaper says: "Except for Kuwait, no Arab country publicly endorses the use of military force against Iraq. Privately, though, most confess they would be delighted if Washington's attacks drove Hussein from power or fatally weakened his rule. It is disappointing that American allies who are among those most at risk from Iraq's development of germ and nerve gas weapons feel compelled to engage in such a diplomatic charade."

TIMES: Western statesmen have found more tacit backing than leaders have declared in public

The Times of London takes a similar stance in an editorial. It says: "Despite intensive diplomacy by Britain and America, Arab opposition to any American-led airstrike on Iraq appears to be mounting." It says: "Yet Western statesmen are not discouraged. They have found in private discussion more tacit backing for the tough Anglo-American line than leaders have declared in public." The editorial says: "Washington has shown much diplomatic agility in interpreting these opaque signals."