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Western Press Review: Iran, Taiwan-China Conflicts Dominate Comments

Prague, 15 July 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Western press commentary focuses today on the possible political consequences of the crackdown on protesters in Iran, as well as Taiwan's apparent decision to abandon the concept of "One China" in dealing with the Chinese People's Republic.

FINANCIAL TIMES: The reformist genie has been out of the Islamic Republic's bottle since Khatami was elected

Commenting on the Iranian crisis, David Gardner says in an analysis published by the British newspaper The Financial Times that the consequences of the current crisis in Iran remain murky.

Gardner writes: "Ostensibly, the skirmishes form part of an ideological battle between reformists and conservatives. Yet under the surface, there is a complex struggle going on, embracing what one regime insider calls 'material as well as spiritual interests.' For now, the complexity of Iran's power structure makes it hard to determine who won this week's battle, let alone predict the war's victor.

"On the face of it, Iran's hard-line theocrats came out on top. Their security forces bludgeoned student protesters into halting six days of pro-democracy agitation. ... In case the students had not got the point, the clerical establishment yesterday held a 'unity' demonstration to repudiate them.

"... But the reformist genie has been out of the Islamic Republic's bottle ever since President Mohammed Khatami trounced the theocrats in elections two years ago, pledging pluralism and accountable government under the rule of law. Rather than illustrating the power of the conservatives to resist reform, the events of the past week have demonstrated the difficulties of the Khatami camp in managing the reform process."

NEW YORK TIMES: Students should avoid violent street demonstrations

A New York Times editorial -- published today in the International Herald Tribune -- warns the Iranian students that "they should avoid violent street demonstrations. These discredit their cause and force Mr. Khatami to align himself with clerical conservatives, as he did on Tuesday. He, for his part, must make clear distinctions between the violence of some protesters and the justice of what they are demanding. He needs to remain credible as a voice for change."

DAILY TELEGRAPH: The goal of a modern state is more distant than ever

But the British newspaper The Daily Telegraph says in an editorial that Khatami's reformist convictions are far from clear. The paper says: "Despite his popular mandate, Mr. Khatami has not lived up to the expectations of the West and his domestic supporters."

The paper continues by reminding that Khatami "is a cleric, product of a revolution which turned its back on liberal values. Any residual hopes in the president's commitment to reform were shattered by his reaction to the student demonstrations ... He accused the protesters of 'attacking the foundations of the regime.' By this he meant their calls for abolition of the 'velayat-e-faqih' on which the political legitimacy of the Islamic Republic is based ...

"The reassertion of clerical power means continued economic stagnation and growing frustration among those who voted for change in the presidential poll and in municipal elections this year."

The paper concludes: "Revolutionary clerics wanted to build a strong and modern state. That goal appears more distant than ever. Those in the West assuring us that Khomeini's legacy was fading have been made to look gullible."

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: The religious rule remains supreme

The German newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung says in an editorial that while power shifts in Iran, the system remains.

The paper writes: "In the opinion of Iranian intellectuals, a strategy of (President Mohammed) Khatami to anchor his power in his representative office rendered irreversible the process of change. This, however, does in no way mean a deviation from the principles of (the theocratic state represented by Ayatollah Ali) Khamenei. The religious rule remains supreme.

"Khatamis motto Change by Preservation proclaims his adherence to the Mullahs' primacy. The Iranians, including the intellectuals, will have to live with this paradox for some time. In any case, at present they are more concerned with good jobs and limited freedoms than with a need for radical change."

FINANCIAL TIMES: Taiwan is as close to a formal declaration of independence as it could get

Turning its attention to Taiwan's apparent decision to change its policy toward the People's Republic of China, the Financial Times says in an editorial: "Ditching the so-called 'One China' concept, under which everybody agrees Taiwan and the mainland must be part of the same sovereign entity, may appear arcane. But, in a world where every word is scrutinized, this is as close to a formal declaration of independence as Taiwan could get without being wholly explicit. The result looks likely to be another period of high tension between Taipei and Beijing."

KATHIMERINI: Taiwan seems to be investing in the tense Chinese-American relations

The Greek newspaper, Kathimerini, carries a commentary by Giorgos Kapopoulos in which he says that "the government of Taiwan seems to be investing in the tense and distrustful climate that is prevailing in relations between Washington and Beijing. Taking a further step toward declaring independence -- which Beijing considers to be casus belli -- the Taipei government believes that any warning or even show of strength by Beijing will worsen Chinese-American relations."

BERLINGSKE TIDENDE: Taiwan's president is playing with fire

In Denmark, Berlingske Tidende editorializes that "Taiwan's President Lee Teng-hui is playing with fire by asserting that there can be no talk of uniting Taiwan with China. China may make good of its threats to invade the [Taiwan] island, if refusal to unite with the mainland becomes official policy.

"... The Communist regime in Beijing has always declared unification as one of its chief aims. And the Chinese reactions to the statements of Taiwan's President could not have been sharper: They suggest nothing less than a military confrontation."

WALL STREET JOURNAL: Taiwan officials have said this before

The Wall Street Journal Europe disagrees. The paper says in an editorial: "We ourselves saw nothing much in last weekend's remarks that went beyond what officials in Taiwan have said before ... There was no mention of independence or of abandoning the goal of eventual reunification."