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Western Press Review: Iraqi Arms Inspection, Israel-Syrian Peace Talks, War In Chechnya

By Brent McCann/Anthony Georgieff

Prague, 16 December 1999 (RFE/RL) -- The Western press today considers the stalling of the UN Security Council weapons inspection program in Iraq, the talks between Israel and Syria, and Russia's assault on Chechnya.

NEW YORK TIMES: French tactics are mischievous and dangerous

The New York Times today takes aim at France's behavior in the UN Security Council regarding arms inspections of Iraq. The paper advises France, in its words, "to stop temporizing and get behind a resolution allowing for resumption of a tough monitoring system in Iraq." The editorial warns: "Any further delay gives Mr. Hussein new opportunities to pose a threat to his neighbors."

France asked this week for more time to see if a resolution could be worded that Russia and China could support. Those two countries had agreed to abstain on the resolution, thus allowing it to pass, but France wanted them to vote yes.

The paper describes France's tactics as, in its words, "mischievous and dangerous." The editorial says that French President Jacques Chirac is afraid of Iraq's threat to cut off commercial ties with France.

The sooner the Security Council passes a resolution the New York Times says, the sooner inspections teams can return to Iraq and Iraq can carry out the tasks of disarmament. Then the Security Council can ease sanctions on Iraq.

This week's setback was unnecessary, as the editorial puts it: "Since the resolution is the product of painstaking negotiations, there is no reason to think that acceptable new provisions can be added that are favorable to Russia and China."

BERLINGSKE TIDENDE: Saddam Hussein may again get the chance to capitalize on the splits in the Security Council

A similar editorial comes in Denmark's Berlingske Tidende. In its words, "It is regrettable that the UN Security Council is again split between East and West. Saddam Hussein may again get the chance to capitalize on the splits in the Security Council. If history is anything to go by, he is sure to use this chance."

The Danish paper, like the US one, also credits France's hesitation to self-interest. As the editorial puts it: "Washington and London had just managed to convince the governments of Russia and China not to veto the resolution in the Security Council when France asked for a delay; Paris suddenly found out that it had to balance between its loyalty to its Western allies and its lucrative export contracts."

The paper says that although there is no proof that Iraq has resumed producing banned nuclear or biological weapons, the year-long absence of the UN inspectors makes such production likely.

FRANKFURTER RUNDSCHAU: Peace should be agreed in the region

Moving to Middle East peace, Detlef Franke writing in the Frankfurter Rundschau places great hopes in the peace talks that continued for a second day in Washington between Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk al-Sharaa. In the German commentator's words: "The outlook for comprehensive peace in the Middle East has not for many years been as good as it is right now."

Franke says, both sides could benefit from the talks: for Israel it could mean peace with all its Arab neighbors for once; and for Syria it would mean the return of Golan Heights and likely economic aid from the U.S. and the European Union.

But Franke warns, "Both sides still have a long way to go." The peace agreement, the commentator says, will require withdrawal of Israeli troops, possibly total demilitarization of the Golan Heights, subsequent stationing of UN peacekeepers there, and agreement on the water rights of the tributaries of the Jordan River.

Still Rundschau's commentator sees all of this as feasible. As he puts it: "With a great deal of goodwill on the part of the parties directly involved, combined with a little pressure and financial assistance offered by the sole remaining superpower, the United States, peace should be agreed in the region."

WASHINGTON POST: The State Department has the power to hold up the Tyumen loan, and ought to do so

Moving on to the war in Chechnya, the Washington Post today says the U.S. government "seems set to provide fresh aid to Russia that will indirectly help its war effort." In its editorial, the paper says that the aid comes in the form of a proposed loan to Russia's Tyumen Oil Company from the Export-Import Bank, a U.S. agency with the purpose of promoting exports.

The Export-Import Bank lends money to foreigners so they can purchase U.S. exports. In the words of the editorial, "the bank's charter does not require it to consider the foreign policy implications of its efforts, so it is not bothered by the Chechnya conflict." Nor is it distressed by allegations that the proposed recipient of the loan, Tyumen, practices the kind of crony capitalism that has hurt Russia's economy.

The editorial argues that the bank's export subsidies are nothing more than cooperate welfare, and are questionable in the best of times. "Even if there is a case for keeping the Ex-Im bank in business," the Washington Post argues, "there is surely no case for letting the proposed Tyumen loan go ahead as planned." The editorial continues: "The [U.S.] administration has recently attacked foreign investors in Sudan's oil fields on the ground that they were assisting the government's war against its southern peoples. It can hardly espouse the opposite policy in the Russia-Chechnya case."

The Post concludes, "The State Department has the power to hold up the loan to Tyumen, and ought to do so."

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: In the 21st century there will be no place for a relationship based on force

A German editorial on Chechnya considers the guerilla struggle that could result if Russia takes Grozny by the year's end. Tomas Avenarius, writing an editorial for yesterday's Sueddeutsche Zeitung, says that if the Chechen rebels were to lose Grozny, "the Russian Army would have won a swift and unexpected victory, and the war would then, in all probability, enter its second stage."

The commentator continues, "After the fall of Grozny, which the Chechen rebels want to defend to the last man and the last bullet, the rebels would be left with partisan warfare as their last resort."

Partisan warfare takes a long time, Avenarius says, and it would test the rebels' resolve even more. Not only that, he says that it would show whether the people of Chechnya truly side with the rebels or are tired of the fighting. The commentator says their choice would determine whether they truly want independence,

Whatever happens, Avenarius says that Russia needs to change its ways. As he puts it: "Russia took the Caucasus by force and is behaving accordingly. In the 21st century there will be no place for a relationship of this kind."

WASHINGTON POST: The Clinton administration and its successor should be in no rush to embrace Putin

In more commentary from the Washington Post, Jim Hoagland also considers life after the war in Chechnya -- more specifically, the future of Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

In his words: "The army's harsh tactics leave smoldering wreckage and destroyed lives in Chechnya that will haunt reconstruction efforts. And Putin's political tactics are likely to leave Russian politics and diplomacy stranded in a wasteland from which there can be no easy exit."

Putin is going after the presidency, attacking his opponents at the cost of further fragmenting the pro-market forces. The result, the commentator says, will be another Duma in which the Communists have the largest share, another Duma that blocks arms control agreements. Hoagland says: "The return of an obstructionist, partly corrupt Duma would in large part be a result of electioneering tactics pursued by Putin's camp, which has concentrated its fire on his presidential rivals and ignored or aided the Communists and fringe nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky."

In Chechnya, Hoagland says, "confident that he is on the brink of military success, ... Putin is moving quickly to repair the diplomatic damage done by the Russian army's savage campaign there. He hopes this will help win U.S. support for his bid to succeed Boris Yeltsin in the Kremlin." Soft words are meant for Western consumption, while the war continues.

The commentator offers advice to U.S. officials: "The [Clinton] administration and its successor should be in no rush to embrace Putin if he does succeed in his twin campaigns. He first has enormous damage to repair, in Chechnya and in Russia."