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Western Press Review: Uranium Deal Causes Controversy

By Esther Pan, Alexandre d'Aragon and Dora Slaba

Prague, 23 April 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Today's English-speaking press focuses on the deal between the United States, Britain and Georgia to remove almost 5 kg of enriched weapons-grade uranium from a plant near Tbilisi and take it to Scotland for processing. The rest of the European press varies widely.

GUARDIAN: The Prime Minister is right

The London daily The Guardian writes in its lead editorial today: "Nuclear fuel in a potentially dangerous situation is the last thing about which the British should be nimbies (Not In My Backyard.) If the West prides itself on 'ending the Cold War' if bears a great deal of responsibility for the consequences. These include quantities of dangerously unstable fuel in dangerously unstable states. It is no good saying we should leave it to the US and don't want it in our own backyard. The Prime Minister is right: we have an international duty. The broader issue goes beyond Britain. Large quantities of nuclear fuel exist under inadequate control in the former Soviet Union; more is being generated every year. We need a proper international regime to police and dispose of all such material wherever it originates. There is a lot to be done: these few kilos from Georgia are the world's wake-up call."

SCOTSMAN: Would we really have been told?

From Edinburgh, The Scotsman's lead editorial asks irately, "Would we really have been told? The former Soviet republic of Georgia is neither safe nor stable. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union it has been the site of separatist insurgencies, civil war, two attempts to assasinate president Eduard Shevardnadze and a tidal wave of organized crime. This is no place for weapons-grade uranium. Ends, however, do not justify means. The Prime Minister and the Scottish Secretary have both acknowledged that no announcement (of the decision to move the uranium to Scotland) was planned until after the arrival of the waste. Put bluntly, we were not to be informed until the deal was done...The electorate in Scotland had a right to know what had been agreed. If the Prime Minister...and the Secretary of State do not understand that, then they should both wake up."

FINANCIAL TIMES: Fuss was disproportionate to danger

The Financial Times in London writes today: "Most people want to reduce the risk of nuclear war. But the row over shipments of weapons-grade uranium from Georgia to the UK this weeks shows that people are much less sure about how to deal with the dangerous materials which go to make bombs. The fuss in this case was disproportionate to the danger. The UK agreed to take 4 kg of U235, most of which was quite safe to handle or store and could be machined into smaller pieces for medical purposes. Only 800g had been irradiated in a research reactor and needed special treatment at Dounreay nuclear complex in Scotland. It will be much safer there than in Georgia...The main lesson from this week's row is that governments must find ways to counter the strident and often wilfully misleading cries of environmental lobbies. Disposing of nuclear material carries some danger, to be sure. But there are far greater horrors to consider. To make anxieties about nuclear reprocessing the excuse for inaction would be criminal folly.

LONDON TIMES: Blair has nothing to be ashamed of

The Times of London sides with the Financial Times, writing in its lead editorial today: "Blair has done nothing to be ashamed of at Dounreay. Anti-nuclear lobbies are radioactive with righteous indignation at all times. But rarely has so much been manufactured in a worse cause than over the Government's decision to accept delivery of...spent nuclear fuel from Georgia. CND stalwards should be lauding an act which averts a real and present threat of nuclear proliferation, not queueing to denounce it. Britain has acted both in its national interest and in line with its wider obligations as a world power.

Leaving uranium behind, the rest of the world press talks about issues from Kosovo to the euro to Germany's friendly World Cup match versus Nigeria.


In Dernieres Nouvelles d'Alsace, Jean-Claude Kiefer writes about today's referendum in Kosovo: "Do you accept the participation of foreign representatives to find a solution to problems in Kosovo? This question will be asked today by Yugoslav president (Slobodan) Milosevic and his old accomplice, ultranationalist deputy prime minister (Vojislav) Seselj, to 7 million Serb voters galvanized in xenophobic delirium. We can already say the answer will be a massive No. And once again by a maneuver reminding of fascist times, the Kosovo question will be sent back to Balkanic limbo. And without negotiations, we'll head towards armed conflict. In reality, the world is confronted to a situation similar to the one in 1991-1992 when Yugoslavia collapsed. It's even worse, since border incidents have already been reported on the border between Albania and Serbia. But apparently no lesson has been learned from this international paralysis during previous Balkanic civil wars. We just continue to talk about great principles like yesterday in the Council of Europe by thinking that discussion on the membership of Yugoslavia will make it a more credible partner! Isn't already too late?"

FRANKFURTER RUNDSCHAU: A Chancellor candidate needs to be different

An editorial in today's Frankfurter Rundschau writes about the meeting between German opposition leader and chancellor candidate Gerhard Schroeder and Belorusian president Alexander Lukashenko: "There is really no difference whether a leading German opposition politician meets with a lone ruler - who is isolated throughout Europe - officially or unofficially, whether he invites journalists to be present or not. This should have been clear to Gerhard Schroeder when he agreed to dine with the Belarusian Alyaksandr Lukashenka... Lukashenka will go home to Minsk and brag about his discussions with the SPD's designated Chancellor candidate. This may certainly generate some interesting assignments for German firms. The role of a prime minister who jumps for firms whenever they tell him to is one that Schroeder has often played. But the role of a Chancellor candidate is something different. The big boots of the candidate cannot just be left in the cloakroom in Hannover."

BERLINER ZEITUNG: Original Euro idea has changed

Today's Berliner Zeitung comments on the progress of the European single currency, the euro:

"The doubts whether a hard currency constitutes as much of a priority for other EU countries as for Germany force the government to look to its own public. Not even new jobs are expected, although Kohl comforts himself and us with the hope of a long-term blossoming of the largest market in the world - although not until after the current sharp competition causes the sick and the lame to be left by the wayside. Until then, he says, Jospin's economic policy will remain 'primarily a national responsibility.' But that was not the original idea. 'The strength of reality' will in the end be stronger, and will force a harmonization of the financial, economic and tax policy."

NEW YORK TIMES: Moscow Showdown is a threat to democracy

Graham T. Allison today writes in The New York Times tomorrow's third and final Duma vote on whether to approve Sergei Kiriyenko as prime minister: " Tomorrow's showdown in Moscow between President Boris Yeltsin and the Russian Parliament is shaping up to be not only a crisis in Russian politics, but also a profound threat to Russian democracy. On the surface, the issue is straightforward, but beneath the surface of this drama, Mr. Yeltsin now threatens to unilaterally change the electoral rules of the game by which voters elect new members...In 1996, when Russians elected their president freely for the first time in a thousand years, one group of Mr. Yeltsin's advisers sought to cancel the vote, fearing that he would lose. In the end, the good Yeltsin chose instead to be the father of Russia's democracy. President Clinton should use his special relationship with the Russian leader to insure that the good Yeltsin stays the course. The time for the phone call is now."

NEW YORK TIMES: Warm welcome for Turkmen strongman

And on the occasion of Turkmen president Saparmurat Niyazov's first official visit to the United State, the New York Times writes in an editorial: "For a textbook illustration of the power of oil and gas, consider the visit of the president of the Central Asian republic of Turkmenistan. Saparmurat Niyazov concludes his three-day visit to Washington today with a luncheon with President Clinton and a visit with Vice President Gore. Mr. Niyazov's visit has been full of such triumphal pomp. He gets these diplomatic goodies because he has two things Washington wants: political neutrality and, more importantly, the world's fourth largest natural gas reserves. Turkmenistan bought an eight-page advertising section in this week's Time magazine, touting itself as 'Central Asia's stable state.' Stable it is, as Mr. Niyazov continues to rule in the same way he did when he was head of Turkmenistan's Communist Party. There has been virtually no economic reform, and last year the country's economy contracted by more than 25 percent. While other dictators deflect criticism by permitting a token opposition, Mr. Niyazov has no patience for such niceties. There is no dissent of any kind, and political opponents are sent to psychiatric hospitals. American officials have consistently raised human rights concerns with their Turkmen counterparts, and Administration officials say Mr. Niyazov has promised to be more democratic. Yet an unreformed Mr. Niyazov still enjoys a cozy relationship with Washington. Any talk about loosening his hold on his country has been lost in the din of the welcoming trumpets.

WEST DEUTSCHE ALLGEMEINE ZEITUNG: It remains highly questionable whether it is possible to shut one's eyes to the policy of the European Union

Finally, the West Deutsche Allgemeine Zeitung writes about the meeting on the soccer field betwen the German and Nigerian football teams: "In Nigeria anyone who does not suit the military regime of General Sani Abacha is locked up: regime critics, journalists, fighters for democracy, defiant soldiers. No charges, no trials; a merciless dictatorship. Was it really necessary to invite a national team from such a country to play a national match in Germany? Now history has shown that a sport boycott rarely makes sense. On the other hand sport is not an island of the blessed. It is important that the Federal trainer Berti Vogts expressed his contempt for the Nigerian regime. But Vogts also said Nigeria is a world champion participant and hence the test is extremely significant. Nevertheless it remains highly questionable whether it is possible to shut one's eyes to the policy of the European Union for purely sport purposes. The EU has decided to isolate Nigeria. In sport too."