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Western Press Review: Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Likely To Flounder

By Ranji Sinha and Alexis Papasotiriou

Prague, 11 October 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Newspaper commentaries over the weekend and today touched on a wide range of issues, most notably the expectation that the U.S. Senate this week will reject the nuclear test-ban treaty. The conflict in Chechnya also continues to draw reactions.

NEW YORK TIMES: We're talking nukes, folks

In the New York Times on Sunday (Oct. 10), columnist Thomas Friedman says that now that the United States lacks a serious enemy, the tone of politics in that country has become, in his word, "unserious."

He wrote that U.S. politicians are treating serious issues, such as the ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), as opportunities to score political points. The Republican Party is to blame for trying to defeat the treaty on partisan grounds, he wrote, but the Democratic administration is also to blame, for not making the treaty a larger public issue. In Friedman's words: "There are legitimate verification issues raised by those serious Republicans who oppose the CTBT. But they shouldn't be deal-breakers. This is a good treaty."

He continued: "The Republicans, rightly, howled over China's theft of our nuclear weapons designs, but now they want to set China free to test them! We're talking nukes, folks. This deserves serious consideration, not a cheap, quick-draw debate and vote."

WASHINGTON POST: It would be a mistake to abandon a ban on nuclear testing

The Washington Post also chimed in today with another endorsement of the treaty. The Post's editorial says: "A ban on nuclear testing has been a goal of this nation since Republican President Dwight Eisenhower proposed it some four decades ago. To abandon that vision now would be a momentous step, and in our view a mistaken one."

On the issue of U.S. national security the editorial says the treaty will not guarantee that no new countries will acquire nuclear capability, but that it will make that less likely. The Post warns: "A defeat of the treaty in the Senate would fatally weaken America's standing to persuade other nations not to go nuclear. That is a risk the Senate should not take."

INDEPENDENT: It is essential to condemn the mayhem unleashed by the Russians

Turning to the continuing conflict in Chechnya, London's Independent carries an editorial saying the conflict should not be treated just as Russia's "internal affair." It says, "We look on internal affairs differently now, especially after Kosovo, and to some extent after East Timor."

The international community intervened in both those crises, in what the editorial calls "one of the most hopeful recent developments of international statecraft."

The standard explanation for why Russia's ethnic conflict does not receive so much international attention, the Independent says, is that Russia is a nuclear power. But the editorial says it is not necessary to create a nuclear confrontation to send a message to Moscow. The Russian government, in the editorial's words, "depends on Western goodwill in order to pull the country out of its economic morass. The West's leverage is greater than either Russia or the West is willing to admit."

It continues: "Outright condemnation of the mayhem unleashed by the Russians in Chechnya is not just desirable. It is essential. The resounding international silence does no favor to the Chechens, or to the beleaguered Russian democrats."

INDEPENDENT: Russians are NATO's copycats

Also in London's Independent, Robert Fisk says the Russian assault on Chechnya is another copy of NATO's bombing strategy in Yugoslavia, which he criticizes as less precise than it claimed to be.

In his words: "And now it's the Russians who are NATO's copycats, bombing Chechnya with 'precision' seeking only 'military targets' and 'the total elimination of terrorist bases' - the same hopeless aim of Israel's regular onslaughts against Lebanon. And of course the war is going wrong. Russians are dying, civilians are dying, apparently by the hundred."

NEW YORK TIMES: Khameini's apparent desire for conciliation charts a wiser course

On other topics, the New York Times in an editorial criticizes Iran's decision to sentence four pro-democracy activists to death. The sentences are, in the Times' words, "a clear attempt to discourage further protests," as well as "a sign of the panic that Iran's restlessness is causing among the mullahs."

The editorial says it is encouraging that Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ail Khamanei, recently praised reformist President Mohammad Khatami. The editorial says this: "Although Khameini's speech included his usual criticisms of the reformist media, his apparent desire for conciliation charts a wiser course. But the speech must now be followed by the release of those jailed and an end to punishment for those who believe, as the president does, in a more accountable, democratic and freer Iran."

KATHIMERINI:The transatlantic cacophony could become a divorce

On Kosovo, Giorgos Kapopoulos wrote a commentary in the Greek newspaper Kathimerini yesterday (October 10) that disagreement over the future of Kosovo is straining U.S. relations with its NATO allies.

The commentator wrote: "The future of Kosovo is a gravely disputed issue: The planners of American foreign policy leaked -- through the Washington Post -- that the Clinton government gradually aims to recognize the independence of Kosovo, clearly to test the reactions of the West European NATO partners in the first change of international frontiers in Europe since 1945." He continues: "If the prevailing view today in Congress, that America's hegemony should be partial and unlimited, also prevails in shaping U.S. foreign policy, then the transatlantic cacophony could become a divorce."