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Western Press Review: Digesting The Summit

Prague, 6 June 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Commentary in the Western press focuses again today on U.S. President Bill Clinton's weekend trip to Moscow. But other topics also came to the forefront, including the European Union and the strong showing by communists in Romania's local elections.


The New York Times runs an editorial today that says little progress on arms control occurred during Clinton's summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Although Putin conceded there might soon be a need to counter nuclear threats from unpredictable powers like North Korea, the paper notes that "he did not soften his opposition to American plans for a national missile defense." And while Clinton agreed that there should be significant new reductions in offensive missiles, he held back from the deeper cuts that Russia favors.

The editorial says that, realistically, prospects for reaching agreement on arms issues during the remainder of Clinton's presidential term do not look good. But, says the paper, "both sides should keep working."

The editorial says that the disagreement over U.S. plans for a national missile defense may be resolved if Russia can be reassured the system will stay small enough to be effective only against smaller states. And the U.S. military must be reassured -- by Clinton -- that the U.S. can safely meet all of its military goals with "somewhat fewer missiles."

The NYT concludes that the Clinton administration should not rush to meet its own artificial deadline of later this year for deciding whether to go ahead with building a missile defense system. "The technology has not yet been adequately tested," the Times says, "nor have the possibilities for diplomatic agreement been exhausted," to risk unraveling existing treaties.


In a news analysis, David Hoffman writes in today's Washington Post that "reducing nuclear arsenals -- an overriding goal in two decades of Cold War confrontation -- has fallen from grace." He says Clinton may be the first president in a quarter-century to leave office without signing a major nuclear arms reduction treaty.

Before Clinton's visit, Hoffman writes, there was speculation that a bargain could be struck in which the United States would offer the deeper cuts in nuclear arsenals sought by Russia, in exchange for Moscow's acquiescence to the U.S. plan for a limited national missile defense. "What actually occurred at the summit," Hoffman says, "seems to have been not a bargain, but a stall."

The stall resulted, says Hoffman, partly because weapons reduction is not as easy as it was in the past. Before, both sides had huge arsenals and there was no "doubt that these were much bigger than anyone could need in a conflict." Then, it was relatively easy to reduce the surplus. Now, says Hoffman, there is no equality in technical, economic, or financial capabilities between the Russians and the Americans.


The Washington Post also runs a commentary today on the Clinton-Putin summit. But instead of focusing on arms control, writer Charles Babington examines how Clinton and Putin relate to one another as heads of state.

Babington says that Putin differs strongly from his mercurial predecessor Boris Yeltsin, who "sometimes amused American reporters by clapping his younger counterpart [Clinton] on the shoulder and calling him 'my friend Beel.' "

He says Putin was very formal with Clinton during the summit, referring to him as Mr. President and using the formal Russian term for "you."

Putin and Clinton got along fine, in Babington's view, but it was not a warm encounter. Putin, he says, is a no-nonsense politician "who keeps his thoughts and emotions in his vest pocket, not on his sleeve."

Babington writes that while U.S.-Russian summit meetings have lost much of their mystique and high-stakes drama since the break up of the Soviet Union, how Putin conducts himself in high-profile situations is important for Russia's future role in international relations.


Today's Danish Berlingske Tidende argues that "the U.S.-Russian summit is unlikely to go down in history because its results were sparse: the Russians were unwilling to make concessions to a U.S. president who will soon be on his way out."

The paper's editorial says that Putin has more grounds to rejoice than Clinton. The Russians were promised further support and integration into the world's economy through World Trade Organization membership. The Danish paper says criticism of Russia's bloody conduct in Chechnya or of Russia's moves toward authoritarianism was muted. In its words, "Putin may be happy because the world's only superpower seems to be willing to accept him the way he is."


In today's British newspaper the Financial Times, commentator Peter Norman writes that while EU institutions stall and stutter, its member states are beginning ambitious initiatives.

Norman writes that while the body of the EU has trouble coming to decisions on important aspects of foreign policy, its member states are filling the vacuum. He uses Montenegro as his prime example, noting that EU member states agreed to give $21 million of assistance to Montenegro's pro-Western government only after "heads of governments stepped in to halt months of wrangling between finance ministers and foreign ministers."

Norman says that despite its importance as the world's biggest trading area and its ambitious plans to nearly double its membership, the "EU is in a state of sclerosis." He says that there is a growing sense of crisis over the EU's institutions and methods of government. In Norman's words: "The EU's federal institutions are making relatively slow progress. The Council of Ministers has found it hard to make decisions, the Parliament is quarrelsome and the Court of Justice is overstretched."

Norman says the strain has been growing for several years, and only promises to get worse if enlargement continues without significant reform within the body. He says that the EU is becoming dangerously dependent on the individual qualities of the national leaders who assume the presidency every six months.


Turning to Romania, Boris Kalnoky writes in Germany's Die Welt that Romania's communists have staged a comeback of sorts by their strong showing in Sunday's local elections. "The vote," he writes, "serves as an important barometer of opinion ahead of presidential and parliamentary elections that were scheduled for November but will probably be delayed a few months."

"Such a delay," he continues, "is bitterly necessary for the government of President Emil Constantinescu. A catastrophically chaotic and impotent economic policy has made Romanians despair of the reformist parties."

Kalnoky says for Constantinescu's first two years in power, his governing Democratic Convention of Romania was stalemated in a power struggle with the leftist Democratic Party. Once that was overcome, the miners marched on Bucharest in protests that ended in violence and bloodshed. "Although the government ultimately kept the upper hand," Kalnoky writes, "the last remaining interest on the part of Western investors had disappeared."

Kalnoky implies a bleak future for Romania if former President Ion Iliescu draws on the leftists' recent rise and his own resurgent popularity to return to power. The writer notes that political violence was a staple of Iliescu's policy: "Frequently the miners attacked Bucharest, wasting the offices of democratic parties and beating up their members. There were many deaths, and Iliescu openly thanked the miners."

Kalnoky concludes: "Iliescu keeps faith with Moscow now as then; whether Romania can become an EU member with him at the helm is a question that could decide the country's future."

(Anthony Georgieff in Copenhagen and Susan Caskie in Prague contributed to this report.)