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Western Press Review: Hot Spots Vie For Western Press Comment

By Don Hill/Annie Hillar

Prague, 8 September 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Faced with a turbulent world like a circus with many rings, commentators in the Western press spread their attention widely today -- examining potential election fraud in Slovakia, danger of a new dictatorship in Russia, developing military dictatorship in North Korea, humanitarian disaster in Kosovo, and confrontation along the Afghanistan border with Iran.

INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE: Mr. Meciar might create political mischief

In today's International Herald Tribune, correspondent Peter S. Green writes that opposition politicians in Slovakia, finding a glimmer of hope of out-polling Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar in elections in three weeks, now fear that Meciar will create what Green calls "political mischief." The writer says that the flaws of Slovakia's recent democratic record support the anxiety. He writes: "For seven years, Mr. Meciar has held power by portraying himself as the defender of the embattled Slovak nation. Hungary has complained about moves to limit Hungarian-language education for its large minority in southern Slovakia. Austria has protested the recent start-up of a potentially leaky nuclear power plant."

Green adds: "Presented with a referendum this spring that addressed both NATO entry and direct presidential elections,' Interior Minister Gustav Krajci defied the Supreme Court and took the presidential question off the ballot. That brought diplomatic protests from the European Union and the United States."

NEW YORK TIMES: A new dictatorship could be even more opposed to the West than Soviet communism was

From Cambridge, Aileen Kelly, a professor of Russian history, commented in The New York Times that while to wish for a new firm hand on the Russian reins is tempting, any new autocracy likely would threaten the West. She says: "I suspect that as Russia spins out of control many Westem leaders yearn for a strong hand to arrest the chaos. But if a new dictatorship arrives, it could be even more implacably opposed to the West than Soviet communism was."

One small hope lies, Kelly says, in sparks of a popular move for democratic influence. She writes: "There are some signs that such a new democratic tradition is developing. For the first time in centuries the Russian people have been left to their own devices. Freed from the tyranny of state, church or party, stripped of all security, Russians have reacted to the crises of the 1990s not with anarchic violence, as was feared, but with astonishing resourcefulness, exhibiting in their daily behavior the combination of individual initiative and social solidarity that may portend a new style of Russian idea."

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: The outlook for a solution to Russia's economic crisis is bleak

The Sueddeutsche Zeitung's Thomas Urban comments today that Russia watchers are shuddering, as he puts it, "at the idea of an ailing Russian president being joined by an incompetent prime minister." Urban writes: "Five months ago Russian President Boris Yeltsin sacked Viktor Chernomyrdin, arguing that his long-serving premier had been unable to come to grips with Russia's economic problems. That was true, which makes it all the more incomprehensible that Yeltsin wants to reinstate Chernomyrdin now that the full extent of his mishandling of the Russian economy is plain for all to see."

Says Urban, "Chernomyrdin volubly argues that he handed over to Kiriyenko five months ago a Russian economy that was in fine fettle. As long as he does so in order to pose more convincingly as the savior of the Russian economy, that might be dismissed as political rhetoric. But if he really believes it, the outlook for a solution to Russia's economic crisis is bleak."

FINANCIAL TIMES: Europe has a great stake in Russian stability

Britain's Financial Times editorializes today that Europe, not the United States, ought to be in the forefront of concern for Russia's throes. The economic newspaper says: "Europe has a greater stake in Russian stability than any other region in the world. (So) Europe should not defer to the United States in helping Russia out of its crisis."

The edtiorial concludes: "It can help in plain speaking, in analyzing the inadequacies of the reforms so far, and speaking out against any drift back to the command economy. It has both a responsibility, and a vital interest, in seeing that does not happen."

EL MUNDO: Chernomyrdin's proposals are economically incoherent

From Madrid, El Mundo looked at the crisis in Russia and asked editorially: "What is to be done?" and said the answers lie within not outside Russia.

The editorial said: "The same question Lenin asked himself when faced with the need to reorient the revolution is the one that the best economic minds of the West are asking themselves today, and finding no coherent answers, when faced with the danger of the incipient implosion of the postcommunist Russian market economy."

It concludes: "Chernomyrdin's proposals (to print money until January to pay back wages, and then set up severe stabilization measures) are economically incoherent. But the urgency is political. It is about stopping the plunging fall of the ruble, looking for new mechanisms of pegging the ruble, and implementing a tax collection system, today nonexistent, to square away the state's accounts. And the Russians must do it by themselves."

INDEPENDENT: The transatlantic divisions over Kosovo worsened

Writers for London's The Independent examine an intra-West controversy over inability so far to build a relief program for Kosovo. Katherine Butler and Steve Crawshaw write: "A senior European Union official fuelled a transatlantic dispute over the world's response to the crisis in Kosovo yesterday -- saying she backed American criticism of Europe's lack of action. Emma Bonino, the EU commissioner for humanitarian aid said she agreed with Christopher Hill, the U.S. envoy to Kosovo, who at the weekend said Europeans were fiddling while Kosovo burns."

The writers said: "The transatlantic divisions worsened as the Austrian presidency of the EU said it was preparing to lodge a formal protest with the U.S. secretary of state, Madeleine Albright, in response to Mr. Hill."

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: War against Afghanistan would not be very popular

In today's Suddeutsche Zeitung, Rudolph Chimelli comments that Iranian massing of forces at Afghanistan's border suggest more an attempt at intimidation than a threat of imminent war. He writes: "It is hard to imagine the Iranian leadership seriously hoping to quash a battle-tried Afghan popular movement by means of force. The Russians failed to do so with even greater military resources at their command. So the troop build-up would seem to be mainly intended as a threatening gesture."

Chimelli says: "War against Afghanistan would not be very popular with ordinary Iranians. Given the factional infighting among the Iranian leadership, armed conflict with Afghanistan would in all probability strengthen the hand of the conservatives and weaken that of Iranians willing for reform."

INDEPENDENT: Tension between Iran and Afghanistan remains high

Ahmed Rashid in Islamabad, Pakistan, and Patrick Bishop claim in today's Independent to see evidence that Chimmelli's conclusion, at least, has validity. They write: "The prospect of an Iranian incursion into Afghanistan was receding yesterday as the likelihood grew that missing (Iranian) diplomats were dead. Nonetheless, tension between Iran and Afghanistan's fundamentalist Taleban leaders remained high."

Iran has another, dangerous, option, The Independent's writers say: "One way of punishing the Taleban would be for Teheran to re-arm and launch Afghan fighters based in Iran to recapture the western cityof Herat and create a corridor alongthe border controlled by the anti-Taleban alliance. This would suck in Russia and the Central Asia states to give more military help to Ahmed Shah Masood, the Tajik commander, who yesterday launched a rocket attack on Kabul."

INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE: The role of so-called rogue states is shifting

The founder and chairman of Business Executives for National Security, Stanley A. Weiss, comments today in the International Herald Tribune that the United States is overlooking the potential of a newly accessible Iran.

Weiss says: "Could Osama bin Laden the terrorist mastermind suspected in the recent U.S. embassy bombings, one day find himself without patrons, completely isolated, unable to find a place to land? Such a scenario might not be farfetched. The role of so-called rogue states is shifting from sponsoring terrorism to providing sanctuary for terrorists. As a result, it may be possible to convince some of these states to cooperate in the battle against terrorism, at least to the extent that a country wants to play a more significant role in the international community. One place to start is with the Islamic Republic of Iran, which, as far as most Americans are concerned, invented state-sponsored terrorism. But the 1979-1989 Iran of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini is not the Iran of today's president, Mohammed Khatami."

Weiss says: "The U.S. policy of continuing to treat Iran as if it were Iraq or Libya undercuts the very moderates in Iran who are in a position to help battle the bin Ladens of the world. Iran's hard-line political ayatollahs play the United States like a yo-yo. Each time President Khatami and the White House start talking about talking, the opponents of change in Tehran put on whatever spin is necessary -- arresting the mayor of Tehran, impeaching a minister, firing off a missile -- to provoke the reaction they want from their counterparts in Washington."

Weiss's commentary concludes: "One idea would be to invite President Khatami to tour the American heartland after he gives his nation's speech at the opening of this year's United Nations General Assembly in late September. Such a move might not only begin to end the current stalemate in U.S. Iranian relations, it might ultimately speed the day when terrorists can truly claim no safe haven."