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Western Press Review: War and Peace In Mideast, Kashmir

Prague, 7 July 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Western commentary gazes -- for the most part hopefully -- on chances for peace in the Middle East and Kashmir. Commentators give international involvement good grades.

BERLINGSKE TIDENDE: Disagreements must not be seen as a local problem

Denmark's Berlingske Tidende says in an editorial that the world must not mistake Kashmir for a merely local problem. The newspaper says: "There are many reasons to be extremely nervous about the continuing conflict in the Himalayan province of Kashmir. As both Pakistan and India have made nuclear bomb tests, the disagreements between them must not be seen as a local problem only."

The editorial continues: "Experiences from other crisis regions demonstrate that international involvement usually leads to diplomatic progress. Therefore, the involvement of [U.S. President] Bill Clinton has paved the way for an internationally observed peace process that can lead to the only acceptable solution for Kashmir: a referendum, which the United Nations long ago proposed."

NEW YORK TIMES: India and Pakistan have no choice but to resolve their disagreements peacefully

A New York Times editorial also hails the Clinton effort, but warns that Pakistan's prime minister will need help. The newspaper says: "After a timely intervention by President Clinton over the weekend, Pakistan may be ready to bring about the withdrawal of hundreds of armed Islamic militants fighting Indian soldiers in the mountains of Kashmir. The pledge to take concrete steps on the border with India, including the withdrawal of the militants from Indian territory, was made by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif after a hastily scheduled meeting with Mr. Clinton in Washington. It was a welcome promise that could defuse tensions. But Mr. Sharif could have difficulty executing it."

The newspaper describes favorably India's response so far to the Kashmir conflict, and offers this advice: "Now India can make a withdrawal easier by not firing on militants if they leave and by pledging to reopen talks on Kashmir and other issues. Kashmir is a seemingly intractable dispute of religion, ethnicity and borders. But as the world learned in Kosovo, these disputes can spin out of control. India and Pakistan, now armed with nuclear weapons, have no choice but to resolve their disagreements peacefully."

WASHINGTON POST: There is a place here for cautious hope and for tough bargaining

Another U.S. newspaper, The Washington Post, looks eastward toward the Middle East and sees promise. The Post says editorially: "A hopeful mood has settled upon much consideration of peace prospects in the Middle East. The expectation is that Israel's newly sworn in prime minister, former armed forces chief Ehud Barak, will succeed by his reasonableness where hard-liner Benjamin Netanyahu faltered. General Barak's forward-looking statements have helped generate an eagerness to get on with the stalemated peace talks. Even Syrian strongman Hafez Assad has joined the chorus, putting General Barak in the peace camp."

The Post tempers its optimism. It says: "Barak still must show a readiness to submit Israeli West Bank settlements to a process of negotiation. Further difficult questions -- borders, water, refugees, Jerusalem -- follow on the Palestinian track, and a major showdown of wills looms in land-for-peace talks on the Syrian track. If there is a place here for cautious hope, there is a place for tough bargaining as well."

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: The coalition is not a signal of a new start

In the Sueddeutsche Zeitung, editorial director Josef Joffe finds less cause for cheers. He writes: "The coalition that Israel's new Prime Minister Ehud Barak has assembled is not a signal of a new start. The whispered message could be understood as 'forward into the past' -- a past that has dogged patronage-ridden Israeli politics for the last half-century. Main winners are the religious politicians, represented by three parties, who have taken the cream of power in the coalition. The line-up Barak announced did not add much joy to the current state of affairs."

But Joffe lines his cloud of criticism with a bit of silver. He writes: "However, there is one thing right with this cabinet. In gagging the religious parties, Barak has sidestepped the cultural battle in order to better concentrate on the peace process."

TIMES: Barak has shown some courage

From London, The Times hails what it calls Barak's courage. The Times' lead editorial says: "Barak has shown some courage in his initial appointments. Although the Labor leader won power primarily as a result of an economic slowdown and sharp divisions between secular Israelis and Ultra-Orthodox Jews, he has still chosen to make the demands of the peace process central to the construction of his cabinet."

The newspaper urges the new Israeli prime minister to move promptly: "Barak needs to determine and outline his agenda for the peace process relatively swiftly before the instinctively fractious nature of Israeli politics erodes his present semi-presidential standing. Other players must be no less dynamic in their response."

NEW YORK TIMES: Taxpayer money goes to support immoral weapons trade

On a wholly different topic, former Costa Rican president Oscar Arias, in a commentary published by The New York Times and the International Herald Tribune finds a powerful nation guilty of perpetrating continuous assaults on world peace. That country? The United States. Arias, winner of the 1987 Nobel Peace Prize, writes:

"By selling advanced weaponry throughout the world, wealthy [U.S.] military contractors not only weaken national security and squeeze taxpayers at home but also strengthen dictators and worsen human misery abroad." He says: "To protect their profits, [these manufacturers] have lobbied to maintain high levels of [defense] spending in the United States while also promoting unprecedented levels of military exports".

By maintaining this dual strategy, Arias says these manufactures -- he mentions only Lockheed by name -- create greater dangers to U.S. security and world peace. He writes: "They can argue that continued American supremacy requires development of even more sophisticated weapons systems."

The commentary says: "A huge amount of American taxpayer money goes to support this immoral weapons trade." Arias contends: "[Effective] step[s] toward assuring real [U.S.] national security would be to end this corporate welfare [and to] set more realistic defense budgets [and for Congress to adopt] tough controls on weapons exports."