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Western Press Review: Middle East, Debt Relief, NATO And The Baltics

Prague, 21 July 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Commentators tackle a wide range of issues in today's Western press, with a lot of attention paid to the Middle East peace summit still underway at Camp David. There is also comment on debt relief, a topic bound to be discussed at the G-7 plus Russia summit in Okinawa.

The Middle East peace talks enter their tenth day today with little news of any major breakthroughs. Both The New York Times and The Washington Post note the fact the talks are continuing is, in itself, an encouraging sign. Both note the future status of Jerusalem is the thorniest issue facing negotiators.

Washington Post:

But the Washington Post writes in its editorial that it is Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat who must be willing to compromise.

"The onus at this point is on Mr. Arafat to show some flexibility", the paper writes. "It's hard to imagine any Israeli leader offering a more generous package than Mr. Barak has put on the table. The Palestinians stand to get more than 90% of the West Bank, including villages on Jerusalem's periphery that are part of the city in all but name. Creative accommodations with respect to the city's holy sites and municipal control over Arab neighborhoods within the city itself are on the table as well."

Financial Times:

The Financial Times writes that irrespective of the outcome at Camp David, the talks have opened up, what till now have been taboo topics, such as the status of Jerusalem.

It notes, "Even if the positions of the two sides remain irreconcilable today, the subtle shift in the discourse of Israeli officials, who now speak of "sharing" Jerusalem, could contribute to a future solution."

With the G-7 plus Russia summit taking place in Okinawa, the press today is also looking at one of the topics likely to be discussed there: debt relief. The Financial Times is not alone in noting that many of the promises made by the G-7 last year at Cologne to relieve the debt of some of the world's poorest countries have remained unfulfilled. The paper notes the G-7 promised that 25 countries would begin the debt relief process by the end of 2000, but with five months to go, only nine have qualified. It also notes only $10 billion of the $100 billion in promised debt relief has been delivered.


So what went wrong? That's a question tackled by Charlotte Denny, writing today in the Guardian. She says the G-7 were victims of what she calls, "their own hype."

She writes: "What they portrayed as a historic deal was, as others pointed out, really just a slightly more generous version of the existing international debt relief program. It was never going to end third world debt, merely massage it down to levels where the countries were judged to be sustainable again according to the criteria of the International Monetary Fund. In fact, the program aims to make the poor countries solvent again so they can continue repaying their debts to the west."

International Herald Tribune:

In a commentary in today's International Herald Tribune, Reginald Dale says the ongoing discussion within the European Union over its future in many ways resembles the debate the American founding fathers grappled with centuries ago.

"Today, the question is whether EU decision-making will be dominated by the member states, as in the confederation that preceded the constitution in America, whether the member states will be subordinate to stronger central institutions or whether there will be some kind of power sharing." Dale says there are other fundamental issues over power sharing that the EU will be forced to address. Dale writes: "Sensitive and acutely political trade-offs will have to be negotiated to resolve these issues if the EU's enlargement is to go ahead. Serious discussions on a European constitution will come later- leading some to say that the EU is currently, in American terms, somewhere between 1776 and 1787."

Wall Street Journal:

In today's Wall Street Journal Europe, Vladimir Socor looks at the pros and cons of possible NATO expansion to include the three Baltic states. Socor is a senior analyst with the Washington-based Jamestown Foundation. Recently, the three were among a group of nine countries to sign an appeal to NATO, asking that it begin accession negotiations with them by 2002.

Socor notes some in the West have developed what he calls "cold feet" toward admitting the Baltic states to the Western military pact. He says this group reasons that taking on new members will make NATO "unwieldy." That, he says, is due to some lack of unity within the alliance during the Kosovo operation and other phases of the Balkan conflicts.

Socor writes: "The Baltic states, however, have strongly and promptly supported all of NATO's decisions on the Balkans and other international issues." He also says concerns that the Baltics are "too small" overlooks the fact Iceland and Luxembourg have proved useful NATO members. As for deferring to Moscow's stated concerns over possible NATO Baltic expansion, Socor says that would imply "turning Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania into a permanent gray zone." He says: "should the Baltic states' admission be put on hold in deference to Moscow's objections, NATO will have forfeited one of its most effective arguments for enlargement everywhere, which is that the alliance's enlargement guarantees stability, whereas failure to enlarge would in itself generate instability and virtually invite destabilization."

Chicago Tribune:

The Chicago Tribune in the United States takes a look at Russian President Vladimir Putin's crackdown on corruption and his plan to exercise more control over regional leaders.

The paper asks: "Is he laying the groundwork for a Soviet-style authoritarian state ruled with an iron hand by the Kremlin? Or is reining in unruly regional fiefdoms essential to building a strong nation? And does his campaign against the tycoons truly seek to root out corruption or does it merely seek to silence and destroy powerful critics."

The paper admits there are few clear answers in a country it says is --borrowing Winston Churchill's famous phrase-- "a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma." The paper notes "many of Russia's 89 regions are out of control and the unseemly power of the oligarchs has been a breeding ground for corruption and contempt of the law. Both needed attention." Whether Putin is "on the side of angels" remains to be seen, according to the American daily.

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    Tony Wesolowsky

    Tony Wesolowsky is a senior correspondent for RFE/RL in Prague, covering Belarus, Ukraine, Russia, and Central Europe, as well as energy issues. His work has also appeared in The Philadelphia Inquirer, the Christian Science Monitor, and the Bulletin Of The Atomic Scientists.