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Western Press Review: Clinton Goes On Trial

By Joel Blocker, Dora Slaba, and Anthony Georgieff

Prague, 7 January 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Western press commentary today focuses on U.S. President Bill Clinton's impeachment trial in the Senate, which gets under way formally today. There is also considerable comment on a dispute that erupted yesterday over whether United Nations weapons inspectors in Iraq spied for Washington.

DAILY TELEGRAPH: The trial is largely Mr. Clinton's fault

Britain's Daily Telegraph calls the Senate proceedings "America's trial." In an editorial, the paper writes: "It now appears that there will be no abridged trial of President Clinton, no...schemes to reach a verdict before the evidence has been presented, no attempt to pre-empt the process altogether with a dubious vote of censure. Any such deal," the paper says, "would amount to a repudiation of the impeachment decision of the House of Representatives." The DT continues: "As the trial proceeds, the political energies of the world's paramount power will be consumed by this disgusting but now unavoidable process. The country is strong enough to endure," the editorial says. "Worries about drift and paralysis are real, but they apply just as much if the trial does not proceed or collapses."

The editorial adds: "That it should have come to this pass is largely Mr. Clinton's fault. He degraded his office, and drew his staff and cabinet into his schemes. When caught, by accident, he refused to resign and continued to lie (and even brushed) aside the indictment as if it were a joke....The President," the paper concludes, "seems almost to have courted this disaster."

DAGBLADET: A prolonged trial could further increase Clinton's popularity

In Norway, Helge Oegrim comments in the daily Dagbladet: "President Clinton is currently more popular (in the U.S.) than the Pope. A prolonged (Senate) trial could further increase his popularity."

She goes on to say: "(Senate leader) Trent Lott wants a quick trial (whose outcome seems predetermined by party representation in the Senate). Yet no one really knows how the trial will proceed. The Senate is a body composed of individualists with little group discipline. In the past, more often than not, the waywardness of a single Senator has ruined the plans of his (party's) leader."

JYLLANDS POSTEN: The end result looks pretty certain

In the Danish newspaper Jyllands Posten, Bent Justsen writes in a commentary: "It is unclear whether the decision on whether or not to remove Clinton will be made after months or just days of bitter mud-slinging between Republicans and Democrats....Most Americans want a quick decision. This is not impossible, even though the trial is beginning without a clear agenda. Procedural obscurities (could) prolong (the trial) and hamper the functioning of the Administration."

Justsen believes that "the end result looks pretty certain. No-one," he says, "can see how the two-thirds majority necessary to remove the President can be found (in the Senate)."

POLITIKEN: Clinton risks going to jail

But a commentary in another Danish daily, Politiken, sees the outcome differently. Under the heading "Clinton risks going to jail," Joergen Larsen writes: "If Clinton bows to the demands of some of his (fellow Democrats) and tells the whole truth without his usual verbal tricks, he risks not only losing his office but also going to jail. In the worst case, criminal charges could be brought against him for lying under oath and for obstructing justice....He may be able to slip away with a hefty fine, however."

Larsen's commentary goes on to say: "This depressing outlook forces the President to continue to (make) statements that...may be legally correct, but do not give the whole truth. Even if he has to step down," he concludes, "he can still hope to be pardoned by his successor. Richard Nixon was absolved by Gerald Ford, which (later) cost (Ford) many votes."

USA TODAY: Compromise should not be so difficult

In the U.S., the national daily USA Today describes yesterday's bargaining between Republicans and Democrats in the Senate as "a needless dispute over witnesses." The paper writes in an editorial: "(Party) leaders haggling...over the rules for President Clinton's impeachment trial had little trouble agreeing on principles. "Fairness, expedition and due process, as Minority (that is, Democratic) Leader Tom Daschle put it. Yet they remained needlessly split over whether to call witnesses."

USA Today continues: "The plain fact is that the impeachment trial, even with witnesses, need not be an endless affair. Republican leader Trent Lott said yesterday that he'd like to see the trial last no more than three weeks, and many moderate Republicans agree....The questions are fairly simple and straightforward. Did the President lie under oath before a grand jury, and did he try to get others to lie or conceal evidence on his behalf?"

The editorial concludes: "Democrats and Republicans alike keep (talking) about the need for bipartisanship. Now, the Senate's first critical test is at hand. Compromise should not be as difficult as some were making it (yesterday)."

LOS ANGELES TIMES: A prolonged trial ending in predictable acquittal would not be satisfactory in any respect

The Los Angeles Times is of a similar mind. Its editorial says: "We would prefer a prompt censure without rehashing all the evidence....It is clear," the paper writes, "that the Senate must avoid a prolonged and legislatively disruptive trial that would be destined from the outset to end in Clinton's acquittal....It would be a drawn-out trial that only a minority of senators...actually want."

The LAT goes on: "Certainly, no morally instructive or otherwise necessary purpose, short of heaping further humiliation on an already discredited president, would be served by another recital of what went on in private between Clinton and Monica Lewinsky. Americans have heard more than enough about all that."

The paper concludes: "A quick proceeding that makes clear the Senate's strongest disapproval remains the right course. A prolonged trial ending in predictable acquittal would not be satisfactory in any respect."

WASHINGTON TIMES: A full impeachment trial is the only way to resolve the question

The Washington Times disagrees, saying: "The impeachment of a president is not the time to play games. It is not the time for phony face-saving measures. The impeachment of a president calls for serious purpose and judicious care. Neither of these is in evidence in the plans being floated by the Senate's... leaders."

The paper's editorial continues: "The only legitimate way to resolve this mess that leaves Mr. Clinton still in office is for the Senate to hold a proper trial. If (he) is acquitted, that is the end of the sordid (story). If the president is convicted, hand him his hat and show him the door. Either way, there is definitive, unambiguous closure."

The Washington Times sums up: "A full impeachment trial is the only way irrevocably to resolve the question of whether Mr. Clinton is fit to hold the office of president....Either way (conviction or acquittal), this sad, ridiculous saga will be closed. Either way, Washington can get back to the business of governance. The Senate has a responsibility to put the (Monica) Lewinsky mess behind us. That can only be done with a real and thorough trial."

WASHINGTON POST: Appeasement is a dangerous game

Western newspapers also carry editorials today on the quarrel between the U.S. and the UN over whether UN weapons inspectors in Iraq spied for Washington. The Washington Post was one of two U.S. newspapers that yesterday said the UN was upset over evidence its inspectors had worked for U.S. intelligence agencies. Today the paper writes in its editorial:

"When Scott Ritter resigned as a UN arms inspector last August, Clinton Administration officials sought to distract attention from his attack on their confused Iraq policy by suggesting -- anonymously, of course -- that he had spied for Israel. Now UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and his team have turned on Ambassador Richard Butler, chief of the UN inspectors, and with similarly pernicious tactics. The principal beneficiary of their gutless ploy will be Saddam Hussein."

"What's going on here?" the paper then asks. "It's long been known that UN arms inspectors cooperated with, and depended on, intelligence from the U.S. and other member countries. Given Saddam Hussein's determination to hide his proscribed nuclear, biological and chemical weapons capabilities, (UN weapons inspectors) had no choice. But both Ambassador Butler, an Australian, and his predecessor, Swedish diplomat Rolf Ekeus, have flatly denied collecting intelligence aimed at undermining or pinpointing the location of Saddam Hussein himself."

The WP continues: "If Mr. Annan or his circle nonetheless had reason to suspect the cooperation had crossed some line of propriety, they could have raised their concerns in private. Instead they chose to provide public support for Saddam Hussein's long-standing harangues against the UN inspectors as 'Zionist' or American agents."

The paper concludes: "Since the Clinton Administration offers no coherent plan of its own, it may not be surprising that the UN veers toward appeasement. But it's a dangerous game....(Last month's U.S.-British) bombing campaign may have damaged Saddam Hussein's missiles, but it probably didn't harm his ability to make poison gas or germs. He has used such weapons before, against his own people and others. Is Mr. Annan prepared to live with that danger? Are we?"

GUARDIAN: This murky story very much needs clearing up

Britain's Guardian newspaper takes another view of the matter. It writes in its editorial that the "charges and countercharges about the role of (UN weapons inspectors) in Iraq in the past could well deepen the divisions between America and other countries, and America and the UN."

The Guardian continues: "In the last couple of years (the weapons inspectors), with help from several national intelligence services, developed a battery of penetrate Saddam's security apparatus....But the work also gave a good idea of the location of Saddam...information (he) had always tried to conceal for obvious purposes. At some point early last year, the reports suggests, this eavesdropping operation was taken over directly by American intelligence..."

The paper believes that if the UN weapons inspectors' "operation in Iraq was used as a cover for an American intelligence operation, that, obviously, must be condemned because it compromises the UN. This murky story," the editorial concludes, "...very much needs clearing up."

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: The Iraqi dictator is not winning any supporters

In Germany, the Sueddeutsche Zeitung writes in its editorial about what it believes is Saddam Hussein's increasing isolation. The paper says: "Saddam wants to expel the U.S. and British members of the UN's humanitarian-help mission, allegedly because he can no longer protect them from the people's wrath. He is there forcing the world organization to react angrily, although Kofi Annan felt he had been ignored when the U.S. and Britain intervened in December..."

"Moreover," the paper continues, "the Iraqi dictator is not winning any supporters in trying to create an anti-American mood in the Islamic world. His appeal to the 'sons of the great Arab Nation' to rise against their treacherous masters fell on mostly deaf ears. Even radical Arab regimes offered no more than verbal support....Egypt has become (Saddam's) chief enemy and is openly betting on the fall of the Iraqi regime."