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Western Press Review: Lafontaine, NATO, Iran, Balkans

Prague, 15 March 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Selections from Western press commentary range broadly over a number of issues, from the abrupt resignation in Germany of Finance Minister Oskar Lafontaine, to NATO, Iran, the Balkans and Turkey.

WASHINGTON POST: Lafontaine's resignation has implications beyond Germany

The Washington Post devotes its lead editorial today to Lafontaine, finding in his departure another major piece of a trend that "has implications beyond Germany or even Europe."

The Post says: "It's been noted that much of Western Europe now is governed by left-wing political parties [but] it's not clear how left those left-wing parties really are. British Prime Minister Tony Blair followed [U.S.] President [Bill] Clinton's lead in steering his Labour Party away from its union base and toward a pragmatic centrism. Now Germany looks set to follow the same course after the resignation of Finance Minister Oskar Lafontaine."

The editorial says: "Mr. Lafontaine's resignation in one sense shows the limits of any single politician, or any single country, to stem the tide of global capitalism. As finance minister, he sought to impose higher taxes on industry as part of a 'socially just' tax reform that would also cut taxes for workers. He resisted any reform of Germany's generous social welfare programs. The results were unhappy."

The editorial concludes: "The United States has more than an academic interest in Europe's success or failure at promoting growth. So far, the remarkable U.S. economy has helped stave off global recession as developing countries suffer. But without more help from Japan and Europe, the growth of imports into the United States may become intolerable, at least in political terms. Mr. Lafontaine's pressure on Europe's new central bank to lower interest rates provoked resistance and undermined the euro. But the notion that Europe should stimulate demand is not far-fetched."

WALL STREET JOURNAL: The economic outlook for Euroland should improve

A commentary in the Wall Street Journal Europe applauds Lafontaine's departure as a victory for sound money. David Malpass, chief international economist at Bear Stearns brokerage firm, writes: "Along with a vote against the Social Democratic-Green coalition in local elections in the state of Hesse last month, [the change] shows that proponents of wealth redistribution, demand-management economics and the soft currency that those policies entail have lost a lot of ground in Bonn." Malpass says: "Germany is not the only country that stands to benefit from the socialists' backpedaling. The economic outlook for Euroland as a whole should also improve."

FINANCIAL TIMES: Lafontaine's absence is likely to create a new dynamic

From London, the Financial Times editorializes: "[Lafontaine's absence] from today's meeting of European finance ministers is likely to create a new dynamic in the discussion of economic policy."

LA STAMPA: Schroeder must win support within the party

Rome's La Stampa says in an editorial that Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder now must cement his apparent victory. La Stampa says: "Schroeder will now have to prove whether his party is solidly behind his restraint. His first steps must be entirely geared toward winning support within the party."

DER STANDARD: Little maneuvering room remains for leftist ideas

Vienna's Der Standard carries an editorial which says: "One must not be misled by the rejoicing of the German economy and markets. Oskar Lafontaine was not such a bad minister of finance as it seems with hindsight, and his tax reforms would not have imposed any lasting damage on the economy. The speedy failure of the ambitious SPD politician, however, shows clearly how little maneuvering room remains for leftist ideas and solutions within the constraints of the globalized economy."

INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE: For the first time Germany finds itself surrounded by allies

The International Herald Tribune today carries a news analysis by Roger Cohen celebrating, from Germany's perspective, the enlargement of NATO. Cohen writes: "Throughout its modern history, Germany has wrestled with the trauma of being 'das Land der Mitte ' -- the country in the middle." He writes: "With Poland, the Czech Republic, and Hungary in NATO, that long, sometimes disastrous struggle appears to have come to an end. For the first time since German was unified in 1871, it finds itself surrounded by allies." Cohen says: "For the first time, it has nine neighbors that all have the appearance of being friends, even if the new post-Communist allies still are struggling to overcome not only decades of Marxist rule, but also the ghosts of German occupation in World War Two."

INTERNATIONAL HEARL TRIBUNE: NATO and Russia are fighting old battles

Russia, on the other side of the new NATO-land, has less cause for celebration, another analyst writes in the International Herald-Tribune. The New York Times' Michael R. Gordon says from Moscow: "Almost two years after NATO and Russia sealed a much-advertised cooperation agreement, the two sides still are fighting old battles over the enlargement of the Western alliance. Despite the obvious weaknesses of the Russian military machine, the flexers of its nuclear muscle and the superpower mentality of its foreign policy elite seem destined to ensure that those battles will grow no less rancorous with time." He adds: "Russian anxiety over NATO, by and large, is a preoccupation of its political elite. Virtually nobody in Russia is happy about the alliance's decision to accept new members, but the issue ranks low on the average citizen's long litany of worries, a list dominated by domestic concerns like soaring prices, crime, and unpaid wages."

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: War in Kosovo is coming ever closer to the Western capitals

On Kosovo, commentator Peter Muench writes today in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung that little is to be expected from renewed peace talks today in France. He says: "The Paris talks have failed before they even began." He adds: "The international alliance which wanted to bring peace now is faced with a dilemma by the warring parties. Even if there are discussions about peace in Paris, war in Kosovo is coming ever closer to the Western capitals."

TIMES: President Mohammad Khatami could be a man to do business with

The Times in London considers Iranian President Mohammad Khatami's visit to Italy last week, and editorially urges the West to seize the opening provided. The Times says: "Iran presents two faces to the world. One still bears the hard features of [the country's late supreme leader] Ayatollah Khomeini, deeply reactionary and viscerally hostile to the West. The other is of a people sick of isolation and the corrupt medievalism of Iran's theocratic experiment. This other face is represented by President Mohammad Khatami, whose trips to Italy last week and France next month are the first visits by an Iranian leader to Europe in the two decades since the Islamic revolution. Mr. Khatami is not yet master in the divided Iranian house. But his overtures to the West reflect real changes in Iran; and its spirited grassroots movement deserves to be taken seriously."

The newspaper concludes: "If Mr. Khatami continues to modernize, and if he can keep the promises he has made, there is a case for easing the U.S. trade embargo. Imposed two decades ago, it may be too blunt an instrument for the subtler realities of today. Sanctions comfort the powerful handful of Iranians who still label America 'the Great Satan' and if the president is to outflank them, he urgently needs to revive the economy. That will require foreign investment as well as the domestic reforms which Mr. Khatami is trying to implement. As [former British prime minister] Margaret Thatcher famously said of Mikhail Gorbachev, he could be a man to do business with."

NEW YORK TIMES: Turkey suddenly finds itself facing deep uncertainties

Finally, Stephen Kinzer writes in a New York Times news analysis on unrest in Turkey that uncertainties there run deep. The New York Tiems says: "With a national election approaching, Parliament in open rebellion against the political establishment, murderous terror attacks being mounted against civilians and the trial of a hated Kurdish guerrilla leader approaching, Turkey suddenly finds itself facing deep uncertainties." The bombings are being blamed on Kurdish terrorists reacting to the arrest of their leader Abdullah Ocalan, but, Kinzer writes, Turkey's problems are more diffuse. He says: "The legislators' session on Saturday was organized by a group of deputies angry that their party leaders had dropped them from lists of candidates for re-election. [Some] deputies from the Islamic-oriented Virtue party also voted for the successful motion to convene another parliamentary session later this week. [And these] deputies want to repeal a law that allows parties to be banned if they are deemed to be challenging the secular Republic."