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Western Press Review: From Britain To Afghanistan

Prague, 5 March 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Commentary in the Western press today covers a broad spectrum of issues today. They range from Britain's agricultural crisis to the Taliban's promised destruction of ancient statues in Afghanistan.


Writing today in Britain's "Guardian" daily, David Walker says his country's farming troubles will prove to be bad news for Poland and other Eastern candidates to the European Union. He notes that the ongoing mad cow crisis, paired with Britain's recent outbreak of hoof-and-mouth disease, are already prompting proposals on the continent to "renationalize" the EU's Common Agricultural Policy, which subsidizes much of EU farming.

Walker writes: "What that means is that the EU's willingness to put collective resources into subsidies for French, Belgian or Spanish farms is slackening, so the prospects for Polish or Hungarian farmers are darkening."

He adds: "Since, certainly in Poland, agriculture is so important a part of national life -- especially in terms of jobs -- terms of entry will be harder to agree [on]," and concludes: "In their present mood there is no way the Germans will go on subsidizing EU support for [their] neighbors, which rules out Poland's farmers joining in on present terms."


A commentary in today's "Wall Street Journal Europe" calls Taliban leader Mullah Omar's order to destroy a pair of ancient Buddha statues in Bamiyan, Afghanistan, "arguably the worst case of cultural terrorism this century, one that should make historians and lovers of art wish there were a vigorous form of 'archaeological intervention' available, along the lines of international humanitarian intervention."

The author, U.S. archaeologist Norman Hammond, writes: "Unfortunately, while the rocketing of the Buddhas of Bamiyan is the worst, it is neither the first nor the only recent attack on Afghanistan's once-rich cultural heritage." He goes on to say both the 1980s Soviet occupation and the Mujahidin guerilla resistance to it allowed "widespread looting" of Afghanistan's archaeological sites to supply art markets in the West.

Hammond writes that the so-called "images" ordered destroyed by the Taliban leader "document a cultural history of enormous complexity in this crossroads of Asia." He adds: "Afghanistan has been a Muslim country for 1,300 years, but has not, until now, sought to take revenge for the dissatisfactions of the present on the heritage of the past. The tragedy is that protest, even from the Islamic world, seems powerless, and that by the time common sense returns to Kabul, it will be too late."


A news analysis in today's "Washington Post" describes a political showdown in the Middle East that seems to have leaders on each side of the struggle traveling back in time. Jackson Diehl writes that both Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat are eager to dispense with 1990s-style detente and head back into the what Diehl characterizes as the "Cold War" atmosphere of the 1980s.

The commentator adds that the United States also seems to be relinquishing its role as an active peace mediator in the conflict. He quotes U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell as saying during his Mideast visit last week: "In the end, we cannot want peace more than the parties themselves" -- the same words, he notes, spoken by former Secretary of State James Baker during the previous Bush administration (that is, of George W. Bush's father)."

Diehl writes: "Rather than try to pick up the pieces of the Oslo process, Sharon, Yasser Arafat and the Bush administration have all joined in pretending that the past decade never happened."

He adds: "By transporting themselves back to a time when Israeli-Palestinian relations were stalemated, [the] exhausted parties of Clinton's Camp David summit -- or their successors -- succeed in avoiding the short-term pain of brokering the peace that lay within reach there last summer. Arafat does not have to choose between limited statehood and his lifetime of revolution. Israelis need not face the prospect of giving up parts of Jerusalem.


A "New York Times" editorial published in today's "International Herald Tribune" urges Turkey to speed the pace of its economic reforms. Despite the relative calming of the Turkish lira and stock markets last week, the editorial says "a second severe financial crisis in barely three months is a warning that should not be ignored."

The paper criticizes the Ankara leadership for the latest crisis, which erupted last month following a public dispute between the country's president and prime minister, and came during a key stage in Turkey's anti-inflation and privatization programs. It calls Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit "unwise" in his decision to reject President Ahmet Necdet Sezer's critique of the government's slowness in tackling corruption. The "Times" says: "Mr. Ecevit should have allied himself with Mr. Sezer. Mr. Ecevit now needs to press his coalition partners to set aside narrow interests and help Turkey carry out the economic modernization it needs to join the European Union."

The editorial goes on to applaud as a "positive first step" the appointment of longtime World Bank official Kemal Dervis as the country's new minister of economy and urges the country to improve its human rights record. It concludes: "Bringing [Turkey] into the EU would strengthen Western influence in Turkey and dilute anti-Muslim prejudice in Europe. But Turkey's candidacy will stall unless it rescues its economy from endemic corruption and crisis."


A commentary in the "Christian Science Monitor" addresses the uneasy evolution of U.S. policy on Iran, saying: "Washington must lend its moral support to Iran's nascent reform movement" much like it did with dissident movements in the Soviet bloc.

Authors Fariborz Ghadar and S. Rob Sobhani write that Iran's historic 1997 election, which voted in a substantially more moderate government, served "as a clear signal to the clerical establishment that Iranians want the freedom to live and prosper under secular rule and want an end to their country's international isolation."

The authors go on to list what they call Washington's "natural allies" in the fight for a new partnership with a secular and democratic Iran: Iran's reformist journalists, young clerics challenging the legitimacy of clerical rule, women, and youth -- who make up the majority of the population.

Together, they write, the U.S. and Iran could address shared geopolitical interests like the containment of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, Afghanistan's Taliban regime, and Pakistan's increasingly radical Islamic movement. Iran could also become a stable corridor for the transport of Caspian oil and gas to international markets, and could help contribute to the security of the Persian Gulf and its huge oil reserves.

They add: "Economic partnership with America would enable Iran to reverse the debilitating effects of the hardships suffered by most Iranians." In return, they say, "Iran's more than 70 million people would once again constitute a market for American goods and services."


An editorial in the "Wall Street Journal Europe" says that "rumors of the demise of a global agreement on climate change" may be premature. It points to this weekend's meeting of G-8 environment ministers in Trieste, Italy, which failed to reject the 1997 Kyoto Protocol that aimed to lower harmful carbon-dioxide emissions in 38 of the world's most developed nations.

The editorial says that the protocol, which it says was not only championed but written by former U.S. Vice President Al Gore, seemed doomed in the wake of Gore's defeat to George W. Bush. But the paper notes that the Bush administration has vowed "continued support of the goal of Kyoto" and has said only that its climate-change protocol is "under review."

The editorial goes on to say that there are "good reasons to be skeptical of both the means and the ends of the Kyoto Protocol," and calls Europe's loyalty to the plan "short-sighted." It also criticizes what it calls the "dominance" of Green Party agendas over Europe's environment ministries, and says: "It falls to the Bush administration to look at the whole framework of the treaty afresh, rather than accept Kyoto as a fait accompli."