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Western Press Review: Commentary Ranges The World For Issues

Prague, 26 October 2000 (RFE/RL) -- The top U.S. diplomat visits North Korea, the German chancellor travels to the Mideast, Poland's voters look left, U.S. voters can't decide which way to look, and democracy takes a stand in Serbia: Without a major news event to unify them, Western commentators today range the world for issues to examine.


Britain's Daily Telegraph applauds an interview that new Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica gave on U.S. television this week (Tuesday). The newspaper's editorial says: "[Kostunica] admitted that atrocities have been committed in Kosovo, that Serbs carry responsibility for them and that Milosevic will be put on trial, though he did not specify a time or place."

The editorial goes on: "Serbia under democratic rule may have to learn to respect its neighbors' wishes and let them [that is, the former Yugoslav republics] go. It will rise above [former president Slobodan] Milosevic's legacy only by recognizing the evil it has done not only in what remains of the Yugoslav federation, but also in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina. And the core of that recognition must be bringing Milosevic to book, for political assassination, election-rigging, and money laundering at home, and for ethnic cleansing over a much wider field.

"By what he said [in the TV interview]," the paper adds, "Mr. Kostunica has set that process in motion. His interview was the most encouraging sign from Yugoslavia since the revolution."


The Frankfurter Rundschau's Thomas Roser discusses the nomination yesterday of the Netherlands' Ruud Lubber to a high UN post. Roser writes in a commentary: "For six years, former Dutch premier Ruud Lubbers was all at sea, adrift in the political doldrums. Things have picked up, however, and the Christian Democrat now finds himself captain of a new ship -- the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, or UNHCR for short."

Roser says that, as Western Europe's longest serving premier, Lubbers accumulated a list of admirers and some powerful detractors. The Frankfurter Rundschau commentator says: "At the start of the 90s, Lubbers announced he eventually would retire, and withdrew from politics in 1994. At the time, he was sure that a career on the international stage awaited him, but German chancellor Helmut Kohl made sure his hopes came to nothing. The big man of German politics had never forgiven Lubbers' having misgivings about German reunification. The Hague tried to curry favor for Lubbers in 1995 when NATO was looking for a new secretary-general, but Washington was having none of it and appointed Spain's Javier Solana instead."


Former U.S. diplomat Thomas Graham writes in a commentary in the Christian Science Monitor that the U.S. administration of President Bill Clinton has adopted a policy of blinking at official Russian cynicism and at its own policy failures. Graham says that both relations between the United States and the Russian government and the Russian people's view of the United States have turned severely negative since Clinton took office.

The commentator says: "Some deterioration of U.S.-Russian relations was inevitable as the euphoria of our common victory of Soviet communism wore off. [But] U.S. policy did matter."

He writes: "Inexplicably, the administration condoned the Russian government's meeting its IMF inflation targets in part by not paying wages and pensions. The administration turned a blind eye to patently phony Russian budgets. The administration hyped its role in Russia's successes before the financial collapse of 1998, but thereafter it was unwilling to accept any blame for the hardships its policies had caused."

Graham concludes: "Our current problems with President [Vladimir] Putin are only the fruits of our neglect of the broader Russian political establishment. The administration, of course, will agree with none of the above. It has steadfastly refused to acknowledge any lapses in its policy toward Russia, nor has it undertaken any systematic appraisal of its successes and failures in Russia."


Philip Bowring writes in a news analysis in the International Herald Tribune that North Korea may be out-negotiating the West in its current diplomacy of rapprochement. But, he adds, in the long term the West will be a winner, too, if it conveys to Korean leader Kim Jong Il the message that softening his hard-line communism will be in his own interest.

Bowring writes: "[U.S. Secretary of State] Madeleine Albright's successful visit to Pyongyang has been a great leap toward North Korea's key goal of normalizing relations with the United States." He goes on: "For now, after the visits to Pyongyang by [South Korean President] Kim Dae Jung and Mrs. Albright, subsequent progress is likely to be slow even if enough is achieved in the coming days to allow President [Bill] Clinton to visit. The North is a hard bargainer and is not in a hurry."

He concludes: "But if it can add Washington and Seoul to the list of those who prefer a softer version of Korea communism to any likely alternatives, Kim Jong Il's current policies will be seen as a sensible strategy for survival, not a tactical gambit."


The Irish Times' Connor O'Clery likewise cautions against expecting quick results from the U.S.-North Korean warm-up. He says in a commentary that Albright and Clinton must be aware that they are repeating history in Asia by suddenly opening up to a closed communist nation, as [then secretary of state] Henry Kissinger and [president] Richard Nixon did with China in 1971 and 1972."

The writer says that China took almost a decade to respond substantially to those overtures, and that a period of latency or even backsliding could come now in U.S.-North Korean affairs. O'Clery writes: "Albright assured officials from Japan and South Korea in Seoul yesterday (Wednesday) that Washington would stay in step as they all reconcile with North Korea. However, the message they want her to convey urgently to President Clinton is that, if and when he comes to Pyongyang, he should emphasize in no uncertain terms that conditions for normalization of relations with the United States include becoming serious about engaging the South, and about resolving differences with Japan."


German commentator Kurt Kister writes in today's Sueddeutsche Zeitung: "This weekend, [German Chancellor] Gerhard Schroeder flies to the region that is being kept tightly wound by the semi-war between Palestinians and Israelis." Kister says the trip was planned when peace in the Middle East looked hopeful and is being executed during a period in which Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and Israeli President Ehud Barak refuse even to meet with one another. He comments: "The Israelis expect unconditional support, while the Arabs demand an end to one-sided policies. The Americans and the French look on with suspicion. And back home in Germany, many wait to catch their leader making a gaffe."

Kister also writes: "Schroeder cannot play the role of mediator. [And] the Arabs are in their view justified in their assertion that Germany is biased. [So] the only role left for Schroeder, then, is that of the cautious reminder [that Europe wants to be helpful]."

The commentary concludes: "At this point, however, all of the countries on Schroeder's agenda are pressing for the planned visits to go ahead. [Still], the trip to the Middle East is the most difficult foreign trip Schroeder has ever taken. Part of the danger lies with Schroeder himself. With his penchant for smug irony and his habit of dropping ill-considered, off-the-cuff remarks, he tends to underestimate the weight of his words."