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Western Press Review: Russia, Iraq, Mid-East Slow In Changing

Prague, 9 November 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Western press commentary today and over the weekend touches on Russia's continuing economic woes, Iraq's repeated defiance of the United Nations and the slow movement in the Mid-East peace process. The upcoming presidential election in Kazakhstan also elicits a comment.

NEW YORK TIMES: The outlook is grim

The New York Times yesterday wrote of "perilous days in Russia." In an editorial, the paper said: "With food stocks dangerously diminished by a disastrous harvest and the economy still reeling, Russia is headed into a winter of deprivation and discontent. The critical question is whether Russians will stoically endure another season of hardship, as they have so many times before, or strike out in anger against the political order."

The editorial went on: "The answer depends in part on decisions taken in Moscow and Washington in the days ahead. With President Boris Yeltsin sidelined by illness and in political eclipse, Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov must develop a program that pulls Russia back from the abyss without abandoning democracy and economic reform. The U.S. must do whatever it can within reason to help Russia get through the winter and start down the long road to recovery."

The NYT added: "The outlook (now) is grim. The International Monetary Fund has rightly refused to support Primakov's (misguided economic) plan, but aid for Russia may still be necessary. After the poor harvest, the country needs food aid this winter, and the U.S. has promised $625 million worth of grain, meat, milk and other goods."

WASHINGTON POST: Russians advised to make their own choices

In a commentary for the Washington, columnist Stephen Rosenfeld writes: "A notable casualty of the crash of the ruble and of much else in Moscow is the post-Cold War ambition of the Bush and Clinton administrations to help make Russia over as a free-market democracy --and as a partner in managing global disorder. It is," he continues, "...less a death than a wounding, and a wounding of uncertain gravity. American policy has backed off the grand approach, but it remains engaged in specific projects with the Russians."

Rosenfeld goes on: "Under the fading Yeltsin presidency and the groping new Primakov government, Russia is credited at least with preserving the forms of its novel political democracy. But it is visibly and disturbingly backing off market reform. The turn has harsh implications, and first of all for Russia. The economy may get worse. An economic meltdown risks a political meltdown."

He concludes: "The prevailing American effort is not to let disenchantment deflect Washington from formulating a credible view of where Russia is going and how the U.S. might help. It is considered the better part of realism to put a broad approach to democracy- and free-market-building indefinitely on the shelf. Russians are being advised that they must make their own choices."

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: Saddam is not worried

Turning to Iraq, in a commentary for Germany's Sueddeutsche Zeitung, Heiko Flottau says that the United Nations Security Council condemnation of the country late last week "will at most raise a weary smile from Saddam Hussein. A gambler like Saddam," he notes, "is not worried about things like that."

The commentary continues: "The censure was unanimous because a week ago the Council had shown good will and offered to review sanctions if Baghdad allowed weapons inspections to continue. However, Saddam refused to step onto this golden bridge."

Flottau also notes that "it can by no means be ruled out that the U.S., which after all has enough troops remaining in the Gulf, will decide to go it alone. But even a renewed military strike would hardly induce Saddam to come round....Any calculation about the future of Iraq must take account of one awful factor --that 61-year-old Saddam could remain in office for another 10, maybe 15, years."

INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE: A military response is unlikely to achieve the desired end

In the U.S.' International Herald Tribune today, Middle Eastern analyst Amin Saikal says "another crisis is looming between Iraq and the U.S. over Baghdad's suspension of all activity with the UN inspection team in charge of eliminating Iraq's capacity to possess or produce weapons of mass destruction."

Saikal writes: "The fact is that even with the most rigorous inspection, it will be almost impossible to declare Iraq free of all its chemical and biological weapons --especially the latter, which can always be hidden...beyond the reach of any form of inspections."

He also says: "A military response is unlikely to achieve the desired end of forcing Baghdad to comply with UN rulings. Instead it may serve to rally Iraqi public opinion around Mr. Saddam, providing him with further ammunition for galvanizing regional Arab opinion against the U.S...."

GLOBE AND DAILY MAIL: Netanyahu's foot-dragging is dangerous and counter-productive

The flagging Israeli-Palestinian peace process is the subject today of an editorial in Canada's Globe and Mail daily. The paper writes that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin "Netanyahu's foot-dragging on the accord (reached at Maryland's Wye Plantation late last month) is dangerous and counter-productive."

It adds: "Although Wye has the support of three-quarters of Israelis, it is causing the disintegration of much of the Prime Minister's traditional base among West Bank Jewish settlers and Orthodox religious parties."

"But Mr. Netanyahu is not the only one who has made sacrifices for Wye" the Globe and Mail says. "(Yasser) Arafat has made strong promises to combat terrorism; that means taking on the opposition group, Hamas. This is no easy thing to do when Hamas strikes a responsive chord among Palestinians disillusioned with (the) peace process..."

The paper concludes: "A bargain has been struck, and Mr. Netanyahu and his colleagues must honor it as it is, not as they might wish it to have been. If they don't, they will anger Washington while giving new ammunition to Palestinian terrorists."

IRISH TIMES: This agreement has reduced the dangers both to Israelis and Palestinians

Another point of view is expressed today in the Irish Times by Israel's Ambassador to the Irish Republic, Zvi Gabay, who calls the Wye accord "a new important phase in the pursuit of permanent peace between Israel and the Palestinians."

Gabay writes in a commentary: "This agreement, which is based on principles of security and reciprocity, has reduced the dangers both to Israelis and Palestinians, as well as paving the way for peaceful coexistence. However, it will depend on whether or not all the details of the accord are carried out faithfully."

Specifically, he adds, "Israel has insisted that withdrawals from the territory will be in stages, contingent upon the Palestinians fulfilling their obligations. In view of the recent terrorist attack on a children's school bus (and the) abhorrent car bombing ... in the center of Jerusalem (last) Friday morning...these obligations must be fulfilled by our Palestinian partners. This can be achieved not only through condemnation of the terrorist attacks, but also through decisive action against the infrastructure, the perpetrators and the supporters of terrorism."

NEW YORK TIMES: Nazarbayev is a thinly disguised dictator

The New York Times today devotes an editorial to Kazakhstan's scheduled presidential election in January. The paper writes: "One of the to be clairvoyant, but anyone can predict that the winner will be the incumbent, Nursultan Nazarbayev. Nazarbayev is a thinly disguised dictator who stages elections he has no chance of losing. Few Western leaders complain, because he is seen as the guarantor of stability in an oil-rich nation."

The editorial continues: "Nazarbayev was initially one of the more democratic of the Central Asian rulers, but since 1995 he has steadily expanded his powers. A compliant parliament recently passed constitutional amendments extending the presidential term from five years to seven and lifting term limits....Nazarbayev has been jailing political opponents...and last week kicked his leading opponent, former Prime Minister Akezhan Kazhegeldin, off the ballot on a technicality."

The NYT concludes: "No one expects Central Asia to become a haven of democracy overnight, but the region has built virtually no democratic political institutions under its current leaders. Nazarbayev's speeches promise fair elections and a free press. The West should hold him to this, starting with the restoration of Kazhegeldin's right to challenge him."