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Western Press Review: Iran, Balkans, Northern Ireland, China

By Alexandra Poolos and Anthony Georgieff

Prague, 16 July 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Western press commentary largely focuses today on the impact of the student protests in Iran. But Balkan reconstruction and a thwarted peace process in Northern Ireland are also topics of discussion.

INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE: Students have caused a severe crisis of confidence

Commenting on events in Iran, Reuel Marc Gerecht writes in a commentary published in the International Herald Tribune that although student protestors have been momentarily silenced, they may yet press their demands further. He writes: "Even if the students do not take to the streets again, they have already caused the most severe crisis of confidence that the ruling mullahs have faced since the disastrous last days of the Iran-Iraq war in 1988."

He continues: "The students are still loudly backing President Mohammed Khatami, but they are beginning to express dismay about his reluctance to defend more forcibly the reformist camp that brought him to power. His abrupt shift in tone on Tuesday when he denounced the demonstrators can only increase their unease."

Gerecht concludes: "Ever more explicitly seeking a pluralist democracy, the student demonstrators may soon force President Khatami to define and defend his 'civil society' under the 'rule of law.'"

AFTENPOSTEN: The conflict is the most conspicuous public manifestation of the power struggle

In Norway, Per Christiansen comments in the daily Aftenposten, that impatience has gained the upper hand in Iran: "The students' demonstrations are not yet a revolution, but the police action against them can assume its own unpredictable dynamics, and can spin out of control."

Christiansen continues: "The Islamic revolution in Iran was born in blood twenty years ago. Will it be possible for the regime to reform itself peacefully, or would it have to have a bloody death as well?"

He writes: "The conflict is the most conspicuous public manifestation of the power struggle that has internally plagued the regime for a long time. It reflects the students' mistrust in the reform forces within the regime, and first and foremost in President Mohammad Khatami's promises of reform, which he has so far failed to deliver."

ECONOMIST: Students want many of the same things as the president

An editorial published in the Economist says that the aim of the students is not to overthrow the current government, but to "put fire in its belly." But says the magazine, the student protests might actually have a conservative backlash:

"They want many of the same things that the president and his reformist ministers are struggling for: more jobs, fewer petty rules, greater freedom of expression, less interference with the electoral system and better relations with the United States."

"Will they succeed? The current protests share one quality with the earlier ones: their unpredictability. The students who are now fighting to get Mr. Khatami to accelerate change could inadvertently bring about a conservative backlash that sweeps away the power of a man, who despite all his caution, is suspected by many clerical diehards of being an Iranian Gorbachev."

INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE: It is too dangerous to neglect 'Europe's soft underbelly

On the topic of Balkan reconstruction, Flora Lewis warns in a commentary published in today's International Herald Tribune, that the major powers must learn a lesson from the Kosovo war and make good on promises to integrate the troubled region into Europe.

Lewis writes: "The Balkans have now registered as a central inevitable concern that cannot be marginalized or ignored if the rest of the continent wants to count on peace and prosperity... There will have to be a serious, sustained follow-through because it has now been so clearly demonstrated that it is too dangerous to neglect what Winston Churchill called 'Europe's soft underbelly...'"

Lewis continues: "The first concern is necessarily restoring a secure and viable life to Kosovo...Beyond that there are problems of the front-line neighbors, especially Albania and Macedonia. The whole region suffered serious losses, and it is obvious that reconstruction will require a regional approach to be successful.... That means Serbia, too, when it is able to acknowledge what really happened."

NEW YORK TIMES: Progress has been made in Northern Ireland

Turning to the troubled peace process in Northern Ireland, The New York Times says in an editorial today that there is still a future for peace.

The paper says: "The current setback should not obscure how much progress has been made. The British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, was able to turn London away from partisanship and make it a tireless and fair mediator. Gerry Adams and Martin McGuiness pushed Sinn Fein, the IRA's political wing into a 'seismic shift,' as Blair puts it. Sinn Fein agreed to pursue a united Ireland through politics alone. And the Unionists and their leader, David Trimble, stopped demanding that the IRA disarm even before talks began."

NEW YORK TIMES: President Lee should not provoke a confrontation with China

On the topic of Taiwan and China, the New York Times writes that the island has needlessly "rocked the boat," with last week's statement that it wished to be considered as a separate entity. The paper says that President Lee Teng-hui should be satisfied with the progress of the island and not provoke a confrontation with China:

The Times writes: "By most measures of civic development, Taiwan has evolved into a far more appealing model than mainland China. Taiwan's politics is now fully democratic, its economy is market-based and thriving and its press is free and spirited...."

"The merit of the one state formula is that it has allowed Taiwan and the mainland to coexist as separate political entities so long as both acknowledge an eventual reunification...."

The Times concludes: "The combustibility of Mr. Lee's statement should not be underestimated...relations between the two remain as tense and explosive as ever."