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Western Press Review: Press Comments On Israel, Syria

Prague, 11 January 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Western press commentators demonstrate a breadth of interest, with political commentary on Israel-Syrian peace talks, now in recess, and economic commentary on the acquisition of media giant Time Warner by the Internet company America Online.

FRANKFURTER RUNDSCHAU: At least there is now agreement to treat all conflicting issues on twin tracks

German commentator Inge Guenther writes in the Frankfurter Rundschau that the eight days of Middle East peace talks between delegations led by Israel's prime minister and Syria's foreign minister failed to progress visibly, but nonetheless ended more positively than they began. She writes: "Now that Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk al-Sharaa have left and gone their separate ways, lower-level discussions will now start to see how these implacable enemies of the past 50 years can take it from here. U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright now is charged with maintaining contact between government heads in Jerusalem and Damascus, amid hope that the next round will see the emergence of something that looks like a lasting peace."

One cause for hope is, as the writer puts it: "Thanks to Washington's team of mediators, at least there is now agreement to treat all conflicting issues on twin tracks. Thus the question of what comes first on the list -- the Golan [Heights] or security -- has in effect been answered constructively."

Guenther, writing from Jerusalem, looked for and found small clues to support her thesis. Guenther: "The fact that his invitation to Sharaa to test out the fitness rooms at Shepherdstown's Hotel Clarion together was accepted meant that Barak at least went away with a PR coup under his belt. [And] Syrian signals that any future peace deal would enable an exchange of ambassadors, with no preconditions, was also seen as a diplomatic success. In the 1996 talks, Syria was quite clear in insisting that no Israeli Star of David would ever flutter above the Damascus skyline."

WALL STREET JOURNAL: Money might help Clinton to buy a Nobel Peace Prize

While the peace talks still were active, New York Times political columnist William Safire urged in a commentary that U.S. President Bill Clinton not try to buy an Israel-Syria settlement with promises of U.S. guarantees or money. Now comes an editorial in the Wall Street Journal Europe saying that is just what has occurred. In the words of the editorial: "Money doesn't buy love. It doesn't buy happiness. And it probably doesn't buy peace. But it just might help [Clinton to buy] a Nobel Peace Prize. Not Mr. Clinton's own money, of course, but the tens of thousands of millions of dollars he will be asking American taxpayers to cough up to purchase agreements between Israel, Syria and the Palestinian Authority. Europeans, too, especially Syria's friends in France, undoubtedly will be asked to do their part."

DIE WELT: AOL and Time Warner complement each other perfectly

In the German newspaper Die Welt, commentator Martin Halusa dissects yesterday's announcement that AOL and Time Warner have agreed to merge, creating history's largest entertainment company. Halusa: "AOL and Time Warner complement each other perfectly. While America Online is the Internet's leading service provider, Time Warner supplies the content for the World Wide Web. Analysts are predicting the marriage of the two mega-companies will affect the whole entertainment and media industry."

Here, in Halusa's words, are summaries of the main contributions each company will make to the other: From AOL: "More than 20 million AOL customers will provide Time Warner with a large audience for its television stations, magazines and studios. The deal is mind-boggling. The new company ensures AOL wider access to its customers and raises Time Warner onto a new plane 'as far as new media and high speed cable are concerned,' observed Jessica Reif Cohen, an analyst for Merrill Lynch."

And from Time Warner: "Time Warner can boast a number of internationally renowned products including, among others, the magazines Time, People and Fortune as well as the television station Warner HBO, the news channel CNN and the children's channel Cartoon Network. It is equally successful in the entertainment business with the subsidiaries Warner Bros. and Warner Music."

NEW YORK TIMES: To remain in the game, companies must continue to aim for the top

Cornell University economics professor Robert H. Frank, in a commentary published by The New York Times, says AOL's principal motivation falls under the heading economists call "marginal cost of production." He asks: "Why would an Internet access provider like America Online want to merge with a traditional media conglomerate like Time Warner? The answer in Frank's words: "In entertainment and communications, even more than in (manufacturing), many costs are fixed, and the cost of serving additional customers is generally small. The cost of producing a movie or writing Internet access software, for example, is essentially the same whether the product attracts one million buyers or 100 million."

Frank says there are ways short of merger that would enable each company to seek to improve its market, products, and profits. But, he says, these ways also would fall short of maximum gain. As his commentary puts it: "Communications and entertainment markets are classic winner-take-all markets. To remain in the game, companies must continue to aim for the top."

NEW YORK TIMES: Building walls among the multiple compartments of these new information, entertainment and marketing giants may not be so simple

The New York Times says in an editorial that the merger has significant implications for finance, information services, entertainment, politics, and journalism.

On journalism, the editorial quotes AOL Chairman Steve Case about himself and Time Warner Chairman Gerald Levin. It says this: " The challenges that these big, multifaceted companies represent for journalism are just now coming into focus. For decades journalists, readers and viewers have been coming to grips with the concentration of ownership in newspaper chains and networks. In that environment, maintaining a wall between advertising and news departments has worked well. But building walls among the multiple compartments of these new information, entertainment and marketing giants may not be so simple. (Yesterday), Case said he was teaching Levin about Internet time and Levin was teaching him about journalistic tradition. That is an interchange that will have to take place not just in their company, but all across a media world that is being reshaped more rapidly than anyone could have predicted."

NEWSWEEK: Ever the clever bureaucrat, Putin has friends in both circles

The staff of the U.S. newsmagazine Newsweek profiles interim Russian President Vladimir Putin in its current (January 17) edition. Newsweek's writers describe a man who believes that Russia's path back to greatness leads through peculiarly Russian terrain. In Newsweek's words: "Though never a candidate for anything before, Putin now in his public statements speaks straightforwardly to the longing in his country for a restoration of Russian greatness, one that will be accomplished in a way Russians are used to: it will be led by the state. Russia, Putin believes -- and here Newsweek is quoting -- 'will never become a second edition of the United States or Great Britain, in which liberal values have deep historical traditions.' This, associates say, is not packaged political hot air, designed to appeal to Russian nationalism. It is what Putin appears to believe. How exactly he intends to restore Russian greatness, of course, is very murky."

Newsweek says that more liberal thinkers believe that Putin will, as the editorial puts it: "Empower a now impotent state to fight corruption and prevent the further disintegration of Russia. But beyond that they think he will pursue a free-market, liberal agenda, sprinkling their members among his government. But others, managers of the military-industrial establishment, for example, as well as a cadre of young, nationalistic generals, want to write their own script for Putin, one that might not be so appealing to the West. Ever the clever bureaucrat, he has friends in both circles, and has not yet tipped his policy hand."

The magazine concludes with the following: "Those two contradictory strains all but define Russian history -- a desire to be accepted and integrated into the West, set against the impulse for the country to go its own way. To date, Putin has carried out the policies of other men, the perfect faceless apparatchik. (Only after the March election) will he show the world whether he can be his own man -- and who, exactly, that is."

IRISH TIMES: The Family is still alive and kicking

The Irish Times says in an editorial that Putin's cabinet shuffle has, as the editorial puts it, "sent a signal to the Russian people that he does not wish to be identified with the Family, the corrupt entourage which surrounded the former president, Mr.Yeltsin. For this reason the sackings and demotions are probably of more significance than the promotion of the technocrat Mr. Mikhail Kasyanov to the post of first deputy prime minister.

The editorial also says, as have several other Western commentaries lately, that the Chechen war already may be upsetting Putin's balance. As the newspaper puts it: "Mr. Putin's previous surefootedness has begun to desert him. He may not yet be sinking into the Chechen mire that engulfed so many of his predecessors in Russia's troubled history in that region. He has, however, begun to lose credibility."

It says also: "Now, temporarily at least, the tide of war has turned in the Chechens' favor. This was always a strong possibility. What is remarkable, however, is that these Russian reverses are being fully and widely reported in media which up to now were supine to the wishes of the Kremlin. Senior officers have joined ordinary soldiers and the Committees of Soldiers Mothers of Russia in stating that the official casualty statistics from Chechnya belong in the realm of fiction. The current adverse publicity may be merely a shot across Mr. Putin's bows from the media oligarchy rather than an attempt to undermine him completely. It is a sign however that the Family is still alive and kicking."