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Western Press Review: U.S. Debates NATO, Kosovo Crisis Discussed

By Joel Blocker, Dora Slaba and Esther Pan

Prague, 20 March 1998 (RFE/RL) -- As the U.S. Senate continues its critical debate on NATO's expansion to Central Europe, commentators and analysts in the U.S. press continue to assess the issues involved in the debate. At the same time, West European as well as U.S. newspapers have been commenting on the ongoing crisis in Serbia's Kosovo province.

LOS ANGELES TIMES: NATO enlargement is Senates most consequential decision since Desert Storm

The former U.S. Ambassador to NATO, Robert Hunter, says in the Los Angeles Times today that "in voting on NATO enlargement, the U.S. Senate is about to make its most consequential foreign-policy decision since Congress authorized Desert Storm (the U.S.-led 1991 military action against Iraq) in 1990. Agreeing to admit three new countries to the Atlantic Alliance is the formal issue; but the underlying premise is acceptance of America's permanent commitment to a trans-Atlantic security strategy for the 21st century."

Hunter, who stepped down from the NATO post earlier this year, writes in a commentary: "In re-inventing itself, the NATO Alliance is pursuing four clear and connected goals: (1) To ratify America's role as a European power, in all critical dimensions. (2) To preserve half a century's gains in Western Europe, including the 'denationalization' of defense and the rejection of war among the European Union's 15 members. (3) To provide strategic certainty in Central Europe, help its peoples gain a permanent home in the West, and snuff out regional conflict (such as Bosnia). (4) To try to draw Russia out of its 80-year self-imposed isolation, enabling it finally to be part of an encompassing European security system, rather than either villain or victim." Hunter goes on to argue: "In charting this new course, NATO has confounded its critics and defied the lessons of history in becoming the first alliance that both outlived its own success and re-created itself for a decisively different political and strategic era."

KNIGHT-RIDDER NEWSPAPERS: Alliance must get act together before admitting new members

Writing for the Knight-Ridder Newspapers columnist Trudy Rubin admits that "when it comes to the subject of NATO expansion, my head and my heart have been at odds." She writes: "I have opposed NATO expansion in previous columns....But recent developments have made me less concerned about the invitations to these particular new members (the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland). I lived in Prague during the 1968 Prague Spring, where I became friends with many of the reformers who were persecuted after the (1968 Soviet-led) invasion, then reborn in 1989 as leaders of a post-communist democracy. No one who knows Czech history can deny that justice would be served if the Czechs were welcomed into the premier Western alliance after being abandoned to Stalin after World War II."

Rubin continues: "My (earlier) opposition (was based) on the belief that NATO expansion Eastward would isolate Russia, psychologically, at a time when Moscow's continued democratic development is vitally important to both Washington and Prague." Now, she concludes, "no new NATO members (beyond the three Central European candidates) should be considered before the current Alliance gets its act together. In the meantime, my head can now accept my heart's pleasure in seeing Prague become a member of the NATO club."

NEW YORK TIMES: NATO goes from big risk to sure thing

In a New York Times news analysis today, Alison Mitchell says that the Senate's "NATO debate (has changed) from a big risk to sure thing." She writes: " When President Clinton called for NATO to expand into the former Soviet bloc by 1999, the idea was considered a stunning gamble that could either unite and stabilize Europe or create a dangerous new post-Cold-War dividing line. Expecting a fierce fight, the administration took the unusual step of opening a special State Department office to sell the proposal." Her analysis continues: "The debate within the foreign-policy establishment was feverish, with a diverse coalition of critics warning that NATO was taking a perilous step that would turn Russia, and its nuclear arsenal, against the West once again."

Mitchell concludes: "Yet now, as the Senate heads toward a vote next week on whether to admit Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic into the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, approval is considered...a foregone conclusion....The Administration's strategy for transforming the impossible task into one of the least controversial treaties to come before the Senate in recent years, was a year-long campaign to build on substantial bipartisan support and then blunt every potential rallying point of the opposition."

Four West European dailies today carry comments on recent developments in the Kosovo crisis.

FRANKFURTER ALLGEMEINE ZEITUNG: Western politicians should make more appearances in Kosovo

Germany's Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung says: "The Serbian Government can feel gratified when Kosovo's Albanian and Serb multitudes fight each other and, in the end, it is the Serbian police...that brings about order. But," the paper asks, "does it suit Belgrade that some Kosovo (ethnic) Albanians want an election to take place next Sunday, while others at this point reject elections?" It answers: "On the one hand, this weakens the Albanians in Serbia. On the other hand, it shows that there is place for different views in the community."

The FAZ continues by noting that yesterday's talks in Belgrade between Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and French and German Foreign Ministers Hubert Vedrine and Klaus Kinkel "also has two sides." It writes: "The (six-nation Contact Group's) ultimatum of (10 days ago) has expired, but now the two foreign ministers have chosen a moment to test, in talks with Milosevic, whether the ultimatum's demands have been fulfilled -- for example, whether the (Serbian) police battle force has been withdrawn from Kosovo. This could be better monitored on the scene in Kosovo. In any case, Western politicians should, if possible, make few appearances in Belgrade and (more) in Kosovo."

CORRIERE DELLA SERA: Diplomats raise confusing ray of hope

Italy's Corriere della Sera writes in its editorial: "It seems this is where we came in, a repeat of a tragic story. As in Sarajevo in 1992, the rift between the two ethnic groups (in Kosovo) is growing ever wider and could lead to mass mobilization -- the ideal workshop for provocation, force and fanaticism....The pressure from (West) European and U.S. diplomats on Belgrade has raised a ray of hope....but only in the usual Balkan confusing manner, whereby promises are made and a few hours later they are denied."

EL MUNDO: Negotiation is right road to take

The Spanish daily El Mundo writes: The international community should not send contradictory messages about the crisis in Kosovo, suddenly aggravated by the first altercations (yesterday) between Serbian civilians and ethnic Albanians. In Belgrade, the foreign ministers of France and (Germany) affirmed that Slobodan Milosevic has accepted the great majority of conditions imposed on the Yugoslav regime by the (Contact Group) for resolving the crisis in the province. (But) several high U.S. officials have harshly criticized the Yugoslav president and rejected his proposals." The paper then asks: "What is going on here? Should we play on the same international court as Milosevic (and) avoid the escalation of the crisis to the levels of genocide that occurred in Bosnia?" It answers: "Instead of pursuing the impossible, such as independence for Kosovo, it is negotiation -- difficult, but intelligent and positive -- that is the road the international community should take. Without pause, but without haste."

DER BUND: Long-term solution will take time

Switzerland's daily Der Bund, published in Bern, discusses both yesterday's mass demonstration in Pristina of minority Serbs and the counter-demonstration by Kosovo's majority of ethnic Albanians, (the second of) which demanded independence from Yugoslavia. In an commentary, the paper writes: "Most of the Kosovo Albanians are convinced that their problems can only be solved when they have won their independence. (But) the magic word 'autonomy' will probably not solve the problem." Der Bund continues: "The demand for independence from Yugoslavia is common to practically all the Albanian political groups. But it is opposed by both Belgrade and the Western powers. It will take time to find a long-term solution for Kosovo." It concludes: "The solution of concrete questions cannot wait that long, if more bloodshed is to be avoided. If the talks (between Serbia and Kosovo's Albanian leaders) do not bring any tangible improvement, then the matter will come to a dead end again very quickly...