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Western Press Review: Democracy, Middle Eastern Peace, And World Health

By Brent McCann and Dora Slaba

Prague, 6 January 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Commentary in the Western press ranges over a number of issues, including burgeoning democracies, possible Middle Eastern peace, and world health.

NEW YORK TIMES: The path seems open to a more democratic, prosperous and westward-looking Croatia

American and German press continue to look at the outcome of Croatia's election Monday. An editorial in the New York Times describes the event this way: "The stinging electoral defeat inflicted on Croatia's ruling party this week is encouraging news for the entire Balkan region, especially if it is followed by the election of a reform-minded president in separate votes later this month."

The paper says, with Croatia's former president Franjo Tudjman gone, in its words, "the path seems open to a more democratic, prosperous and westward-looking Croatia."

Croatia's new government promises change and the editorial says the West should embrace the country: "If Croatian policies change as promised, the United States and Europe should reward Zagreb's new leaders with an invitation to join NATO's Partnership for Peace. The European Union should also give serious consideration to eventual Croatian membership."

FRANKFURTER RUNDSCHAU: Racan is well aware that the alliance he heads faces a tough task

In the Frankfurter Rundschau, Stephan Israel focuses on Ivica Racan, the man likely to head the next Croatian government. Israel says Racan had a brief taste of power before, when he headed the Central Committee of the Croatian Communist Party in 1989. But in the next year, the commentator says, Racan was maneuvered off the political scene. During Franjo Tudjman's reign he remained quiet but brought about reforms within his party. During this time the Croatian Communist Party became the Social Democratic Party.

Israel describes Racan this way: "[He] is not a man of great words, being viewed by many as a hesitant pragmatist. He supports the free market and has promised to breathe life into Croatian democracy. The Social Democrat is well aware that the alliance he heads faces a tough task."

NEW YORK TIMES: Putin's ascension was quite a trick

Another man who has caught the eye of the Western press is Russian interim president Vladimir Putin. William Safire has an essay in the New York Times in which he says Yeltsin's resignation and Putin's assumption of the presidency is a trick. But, in Safire's words, "Russophiles here are hailing the manipulation as a great boon to reform."

The manipulation not only brought Putin incumbency but also moved the presidential election forward to March, and Safire says both measures could help Putin become the second elected president. He puts it this way: "Putin rocketed to popularity on Russian jubilation about the massacre of dark-skinned Chechens who dare to demand independence. He needed a snap election before the bloodlust cooled and Russian body bags began returning home."

Safire says when the presidential election comes around, Putin will not be in a race with other Russian politicians, but, in Safire's words, "a race with disillusionment -- that moment when Russians realize that the Chechens won't be beaten without heavy losses, that the flight of capital will continue ... and that military spending robs Russia of ability to compete."

Safire concludes by saying, "Putin's ascension was quite a trick. We have a cunning and energetic adversary. We should do nothing to finance his clique's power or further his tiger's ride."

WASHINGTON POST: The U.S. should not warmly embrace the new Kremlin boss and claim vindication of its Russian policy

In more American commentary on Putin, Jim Hoagland writes in the Washington Post the U.S. hopes to benefit from the recent change in the Russian leadership. In his words, "The smoothness of the transfer of power has generated expectations of stability to come for Russia. That is clearly the hope of the Clinton administration, which was surprised by Yeltsin's decision but not distressed to see him go."

But Hoagland says even though Putin may reduce the war in Chechnya and hopes to get the Duma to move on the START II treaty ratification, in his words, "[Washington] should not warmly embrace the new Kremlin boss and claim vindication of its Russian policy on the strength of those moves alone."

Before Washington places too much hope in Putin, in Hoagland's words, "Putin must conduct elections that demonstrate a genuine commitment to democracy and stability for Russia. And he must include Chechnya's elected president, Aslan Maskhadov, in serious negotiations to end the war."

FRANKFURTER ALLGEMEINE ZEITUNG: The election will prove to be a nationalist or chauvinist popular decision

Former U.S. National Security Adviser Zbigniev Brzezinski, writing in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, asks rhetorically if Putin will become a "Pinochet" or a "Milosevic"?

The commentator puts it this way: "Much depends on the answer to this question both for Russia and the world. Milosevic led Serbia into a nationalist adventure. The consequences led to bloodshed and a series of historic defeats. Pinochet terminated anarchistic situations by introducing a brutal system, which introduced a free-market economy and in the end prepared a way for democracy."

The commentator says Putin abused Russia's constitution when he became the interim president. And the time is now too brief for anyone to battle him for the upcoming presidency. The commentator says that the election will prove to be a nationalist or chauvinist popular decision. In the commentator's words, the feeling in Russia is that "a true Russian patriot will vote for Putin; every vote against him is a vote against Russia."

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: Denying Israel access to the region's water resources is unthinkable

In more German commentary, Heiko Flottau writes in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung that water plays a key role in the ongoing Israeli-Syrian peace talks. Flottau says what appears to be complex negotiations comes down to who should have control of about 20 square kilometers of land -- the rest is water.

In Flottau's words, "Syria is hardly likely to accept any solution which guarantees the return of the Golan but allows for a border to Israel running 10 meters east of the sea of Galilee and 50 meters from Jordan, which would even stop [Syrians on holidays] from going swimming." Flottau continues, "On the other hand, denying Israel access to the region's water resources is unthinkable." Flottau says a joint agreement on the issue of water will be an essential part of any comprehensive treaty.

WASHINGTON POST: The developed world should give more aid to developing counties with serious AIDS policies

The Washington Post today has an editorial looking ahead to the UN Security Council's meeting Monday about the spread of the HIV virus. In the editorial's words: "Since AIDS, the disease to which the virus leads, is killing far more people than war, it richly deserves the Security Council's attention. The question is what to do about it."

The editorial says this event is unprecedented as it's the first time the Security Council has convened to discuss action on a health issue and the first time the meeting will be chaired by an American vice president.

The editorial says, in its words, "[Vice President Al Gore] should spur the developed world to give more aid to developing counties with serious AIDS policies. At present, the United States spends nearly $900 million a year on fighting the disease within the U.S., and the problem here is far from solved. All the sub-Saharan countries combined have a mere $160 million to spend on their efforts -- and the challenge they face is much, much bigger."