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Western Press Review: Clinton Testifies While Northern Ireland Reels

By Joel Blocker/Dora Slaba

Prague, 17 August 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Western press commentary today and over the weekend concentrates on two major -- and entirely unrelated -- subjects. The first event is U.S. President Bill Clinton's testimony this evening to a grand jury about his relationship with Monica Lewinsky, a former White House intern. The second is Saturday's murderous terrorist bombing in Northern Ireland, which killed at least 28 men, women and children and injured scores of others.

FINANCIAL TIMES: Clinton is in a tighter spot than at any time in his presidency

Clinton's long-awaited secret testimony later today will be videotaped in the White House and conveyed by close-circuit television to a 23-member grand jury convened nearby in Washington, D.C. Britain's Financial Times today says that "the next 24 hours will prove to be a demeaning ordeal for Bill Clinton." In an editorial the paper writes: "(He) is in a tighter spot than at any time in his presidency (but) the safe bet is that he will pull through, even if badly damaged." The editorial notes that "most Americans believe Mr. Clinton had some kind of affair with Ms. Lewinsky, and they do not care much about it one way or another, provided he does not lie about the relationship in front of today's grand jury." It goes on to say: "The likelihood is of a two-pronged approach (by Clinton): a legal form of words that may get him off the perjury charge, but, when (as expected) he speaks to the American people, a more direct form of contrition." The paper concludes: "Of course Mr. Clinton has been badly damaged by this squalid saga. Given the strength of the U.S. economy, his second term as president might have been a period of great opportunity. Now, much of that time has been frittered away in a political distraction that has preoccupied Washington -- although not the rest of the countr y-- for most of this year. But at least the end may now be in sight."

TIMES: Anything less than a full admission would be dangerous territory for the President

Two days before (Aug. 25), The Times of London also discussed the larger implications of Clinton's critical grand-jury testimony. In its editorial, the paper that "the Clinton legacy is not yet set in stone." Much depends, The Times said, on whether Clinton makes what it calls "a full admission and apology" for what may have been his improper behavior with Lewinsky. Anything less, the editorial said "would be dangerous territory for the President (who) has two more, potentially very turbulent, years of his term to see through." The paper went on to say: "Mr. Clinton will certainly take a political risk if he decides to tell all about the Lewinsky saga. He will take a much larger risk with his countrymen and America's allies if he decides to deal in semantics instead."

NEW YORK TIMES: The troubles of this administration arise from the conduct, attitude and style of this president

Yesterday, the New York Times wrote in its editorial: "Unlike any of his modern predecessors, Bill Clinton seems to believe that he lives beyond the reach of public disappointment....(But) the first thing that must be said goes not to Clinton's survival strategy, but to the nation's dilemma. For the time being, this presidency is a shell. For those who place Democratic Party dominance above all other civic values, the situation may seem tolerable. For many others, it is wrenching to know that most Americans believe that this president will not, cannot tell the full truth even if he is put under oath." The editorial continued: "The troubles of this administration...arise... from the conduct, attitude and style of this president and his highly individualistic way of interpreting and describing reality. He promised a presidency of compassion. He has, through the steady avoidance of candor, been reduced to a presidency of tactics." The New York Times summed up: "The American people, one senses, are tired, but not bereft of optimism. Already one feels the attention of the lustrous Republic turning, as subtly as the seasons, toward 2000 and the prospect of a presidency founded on openness and steady principle."

ARIZONA REPUBLIC: The only worse outcome would be that we learn nothing from it

The same day, the provincial daily Arizona Republic asked: "Will Americans forgive (Clinton) the truth? We don't know. If it turns out he has been less than truthful, there will be a political price to be paid --possibly even impeachment, although Congress now seems to have little stomach for it. But better he pay it than the country." And it concluded its editorial with another question: "Forgive? Maybe. But not forget. The only worse outcome from Monday's testimony than more of this destructive dance of deception would be that we learn nothing from it. Bill Clinton can help the nation learn by first accepting his own culpability."

IRISH TIMES: It is time for cool thinking

Less than 48 hours after the explosion of a terrorist bomb wreaked havoc in Omagh, a town 30 kilometers west of Northern Ireland's capital Belfast, the Irish Times today calls for those in power both in Britain and in the Republic of Ireland to remain calm through what the paper calls "this highly emotional time." The paper's editorial, entitled "Confronting the Fascists," says: "Anyone who has followed the deadly maneuvers North and South between the security forces and the various Republican splinter-groups opposed to the Belfast Agreement is likely to have been resigned to the bleak inevitability that sooner or later a bomb would get through the surveillance or that some major attack would be successfully mounted. But few could have anticipated," the editorial goes on, "the scale of bloodshed which was visited upon the innocent people of Omagh on Saturday afternoon, or imagined the monstrous evil of those who lured their victims supposedly to safety while in reality drawing them to the most advantageous killing spot."

The Irish Times adds: "Few would have thought it likely either that the worst single atrocity of Northern Ireland's (last) 30 years of troubles would follow so closely upon the endorsement of the (Belfast) agreement by the great majority of people in both parts of Ireland....The perpetrators of this appalling crime...are not just murderers. They are, in the literal sense of the words, fascists, seeking to overthrow the wishes of the people through terror....The object of their violence is to make democratic politics unworkable." The paper concludes: "It is time for cool thinking, for courage and for determination. Those who seek peace and accommodation (should remember this) maxim: Victory comes not to those who can inflict most but to those who can endure most."

NEW YORK TIMES: This bombing takes place in a very different political context from previous ones

The New York Times today also says that "everyone's worst fears about Northern Ireland were realized on Saturday when (the) car bomb exploded in the town of Omagh. While the majority of voters endorsed the (Belfast) peace agreement in May, both Protestant and Catholic splinter groups have threatened to express their opposition through violence." The paper's editorial continues: "Now one of them, suspected to be an Irish Republican Army splinter group called the Real IRA, has carried out the deadliest attack in Northern Ireland since the conflict began three decades ago. The group's aim can only be to provoke the return of violent clashes by inspiring retaliation by Protestant groups. It is up to police and politicians to ensure they do not succeed."

The paper adds: "The British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, rightly pointed out that this bombing takes place in a very different political context from previous ones. The Real IRA, which is thought to have fewer than 100 members, has no public support. In Omagh, the whole town pulled together to treat victims, who include both Protestants and Catholics. Gerry Adams, the leader of Sinn Fein, the political wing of the IRA, said he was "totally horrified (by the bomb. His) statement is a great improvement over Adams' past responses when the IRA or its splinter groups have been held responsible for bombings."

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: There is some hope in Gerry Adam's new tone

Germany's Sueddeutsche Zeitung today says in an editorial: "In all the years of troubles, there has not been a more terrible massacre than the one on Black Saturday in Omagh." The paper writes: "Ulster and Britain and the whole world look on with dismay at what occurred in this small market town, which has awakened fears of a conflict that had been considered as ended." The editorial finds some " the new tone of Gerry Adams who, unlike his Republican enemies, has a mandate to condemn this act 'without any limitations.' Sinn Fein is on the way to becoming a normal democratic political party. The Irish Republicans in Ulster will have to isolate (their) psychopaths (and not blindly) defend Irish solidarity."

INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE: The Republicans should root out the militarists

Picking up the same theme, a commentary today in the U.S. International Herald Tribune on the Omagh bombing is entitled "To Salvage Northern Ireland, Isolate the Extremists." Written by Tom Gallagher, a professor at Britain's Bradford University, the commentary says that "after the Omagh massacre, democratically elected leaders in both islands need to show...they have the resolve to drain the sectarian poison which is choking the life out of Northern Ireland." Gallagher goes to say: "On Saturday evening, instead of offering statesmanship, Tony Blair and his Irish counterpart, Bertie Ahern, sounded like dazed victims in a traffic accident, offering platitudes that just increase the demoralization and panic of ordinary people....The citizens of Northern Ireland need to be reminded of the values of tolerance and compromise that have made Britain and the Irish Republic democracies which can earn respect in the world." He adds: "Dublin and London should lean hard on Republicans, who mawkishly insist on commemorating long past examples of British oppression, to desist for a lengthy period if they are really committed to peace....After Omagh, if Republicans expect to retain their good standing in the world, they should root out the militarists whose addiction to violence is leaving a trail of smashed bodies."

INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE: We must ensure that the painful lessons of Bosnia are not ignored

Turning to Kosovo, the IHT also carries today a commentary by Sadako Ogata, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, who urges: "Prevent a Kosovo catastrophe before it is too late." Ogata writes: "My Agency (UNHCR) estimates that the conflict has driven up to a quarter-of-a-million people out of their homes....More than 10 percent of Kosovo's population is now displaced. The fighting has left hundreds of people dead....Thousands of desperate people are crammed into tiny hamlets, often more than 100 in one house in unbearable conditions. Elsewhere, thousands camp out in the woods and hills of Kosovo without access to food and fresh water, too fearful to move." She goes on to say: "The assurances given by the Yugoslav authorities that the attacks will stop ring hollow....The situation invokes the specter of the Bosnia war, when humanitarian agencies braved countless obstacles trying to bring...aid to besieged enclaves. We must prevent a similar scenario in Kosovo," Ogata concludes. "We must also ensure that the painful lessons of Bosnia are not ignored and that the progress in that country is not derailed by a new Balkan catastrophe."