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Western Press Review: Pakistan Escalates; Ruble Descends

Prague, 29 May 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Pakistan exploded a nuclear device or devices yesterday and Western press commentators reacted variously with alarm, determination, or optimism.

FINANCIAL TIMES: The inevitable has happened

"The inevitable has happened," says the Financial Times, London, in a editorial today. The editorial says: "After India's nuclear tests barely two weeks ago, Pakistan has responded with five blasts of its own. Honor in the strife-torn sub-continent is even, and the world is, on the face of it, a much more dangerous place."

The newspaper says: "The only way to persuade (nuclear arms) outsiders not to join (the nuclear club) is for the insiders to launch a new comprehensive round of nuclear disarmament. That would be the best possible outcome from this latest dangerous turn."

ALLGEMEINE ZEITUNG: Pakistan faces slight risks from international reaction

The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung blames a mild international response to India for Pakistan's boldness. It editorializes: "Following the Hindu bomb there is now a Muslim bomb: at least this is the way according to south Asian way of thinking." And says: "This very nationalist attitude constitutes the main danger. Since the international reaction to India's actions, apart from the American sanctions, was so mild, does not Pakistan, too, have to reckon with but slight risks?"

NEW YORK TIMES: India and Pakistan have achieved a fearful symmetry

An editorial in The New York Times says: "Hitching nuclear weapons to the bristling hostility between India and Pakistan has long been a frightening prospect. It became a reality (yesterday) when Pakistan tested five nuclear devices just two weeks after India did the same. The two nations now have achieved a fearful symmetry that, if managed carelessly, could produce a nuclear confrontation. To avoid that deadly result, Pakistan and India, with the help of the United States and other nations, must move immediately to limit their nuclear ambitions."

TIMES: There has been a cacophony of injured self-justification

The Times of London editorializes today: "In both capitals there has been a cacophony of injured self-justification. Each government, scarcely in full command, has courted short-term domestic popularity with nationalist gestures. Yet each has felt the need for a figleaf to cover its belligerent posturing. India has offered a treaty of no first use of nuclear weapons; Pakistan, within hours of its tests, said it was ready to discuss all outstanding issues, including a non-aggression pact. These offers, insincere and hedged around as they might be, should be immediately taken up."

WASHINGTON POST: The President has to apply the same stern economic and political sanctions to all offenders

The Washington Post laments editorially today what it says is the rigidity of response imposed on the U.S. government by legislation. The Post says: "In a kinder world, the United States would treat different sorts of tests differently. Unfortunately, congressional micromanagers have left the president with no choice but to apply the same stern economic and political sanctions to all offenders. A poor country, India knew what these penalties would be but, caught up in its new phase of Hindu-nationalist pride, tested. Poorer Pakistan also knew and, in its fear, also tested. So much for the efficacy of sanctions, at least when they are applied rigidly."

Two editorialists find cause for optimism in the India-Pakistan nuclear exchange.

NEUE ZUERCHER ZEITUNG: The current situation also offers a chance that may serve a useful purpose

The Neue Zuercher Zeitung says: "Although the tension has reached new heights in the subcontinent and there is a threat of a continuation of the expensive arms race, the current situation also offers a chance that may serve a useful purpose. Since now Pakistan as well as India have the capability of atomic intimidation and a balance of fear, they might be more willing to sign the test agreement."

INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE: The Pakistan tests have some beneficial consequences

The International Herald Tribune says in an editorial: "The Pakistan tests were not only unsurprising but, in the general scheme of things, have some beneficial consequences."

These are, the editorial says: "They restore nuclear equilibrium to the subcontinent." Also, "They give one Muslim nation a nuclear capability. The Islamic world has been quite reasonably outraged by suggestions that Muslims, uniquely, could not be trusted with nuclear arms. Breaking this taboo has made the world safer by reducing the appeal to the Iraqs and Libyas of achieving glory by being the first nuclear Muslim nation."

The benefits also are, "These tests, like India's, underline the impossibility of externally imposed nuclear nonproliferation rules;" and, "The new multipolar world implies that the United States and the other 'old' nuclear powers must use their influence to keep balance."

The editorial concludes: "The blasts may even restore some balance to U.S. Asia policy. They should help Bill Clinton before his China visit, and at a time when he is accused of being overly influenced by Beijing. Immediately after the Indian tests, Washington's threats made U.S. policy look lopsided. Now America can spread its displeasure without seeming unfair to any of the three official Asian nuclear nations."

A succession of editorials and analysis Wednesday through today makes developments in the Russian economy read like a novel:

NEW YORK TIMES: There are worries about the fate of Russia's government and economy

The New York Times Wednesday -- "The world's financial markets have tumbled in the past two days, and worries about the fate of Russia's government and economy are one reason. (Russia) must deal decisively with the economic problems. It needs clear support from President Yeltsin and from Russian elites, some of whom seem to have responded by trying to get their money out of Russia."

WASHINGTON POST: The currency collapse could lead to an economic meltdown

The Washington Post, yesterday -- "Russia fought hard today to prop up the plunging ruble and avoid a currency collapse that analysts say could lead to an economic meltdown. (President Boris) Yeltsin regards a stable ruble as one of the main achievements of his seven years in office and a symbol of his commitment to an economy in which investors, consumers and savers need not fear a sudden reduction in the value of their money."

DAILY TELEGRAPH: Speculators are licking their wounds

The Daily Telegraph, London, yesterday: "International speculators are licking their wounds after the Russian central bank tripled interest rates from 50 percent to 150 percent yesterday."

WALL STREET JOURNAL: Triple interest rates appeared to take the heat off the country's battered financial markets

The Wall Street Journal Europe today -- "Russian stocks and bonds rebounded as the Kremlin's daring gambit to triple interest rates appeared to take the heat off the country's battered financial markets. The move appeared to assuage investors." The WSJE said, "But despite the gains, investors remained cautious, saying it was not clear if the recovery would last."