Accessibility links

Breaking News

Western Press Review: Commentary Examines Arab League Summit

Prague, 29 March 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Under headlines with words such as "Chorus of Hate" and "Arab League Belligerence" and "Disarray," substantial Western commentary in our press review today dissects the two-day Arab League summit that ended yesterday.


Writing from Amman for the "Frankfurter Rundschau," analyst Andrea Nuesse profiles Egypt's Foreign Minister Amr Mussa, named the league's secretary-general. He is, she says, a "quick-witted and eloquent" diplomat with "wide popularity in the Arabic world for his strong stands on Israel."

Nuesse writes: "Mussa has never been shy about criticizing Israeli policies. Especially since the outbreak of the new intifada six months ago. [Once], during a visit to Tel Aviv, Mussa dodged a photo opportunity that involved shaking hands with Israel's then-Defense Minister Ariel Sharon. When the photographers asked the two to shake, Mussa told them he had heard Sharon didn't like handshakes -- a reference to Sharon's [earlier] refusal to shake hands with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat."

The analyst writes: "What Mussa's term in office will mean to the toothless Arab League is still obscure. Many observers fear that his clear voice and his political visions will go unheeded in the future. As secretary-general of the league and its 22 members -- among them U.S. allies such as Saudi Arabia and often-defiant countries like Iraq and Syria -- he'll have to pay more attention to building a consensus than he has in his earlier positions."


The "New York Times" says in an editorial that until a few years ago there was hope that a new generation of Arab leaders would adopt what the newspaper calls "less rigid foreign policies." The editorial laments that it hasn't happened.

The editorial says: "Among the most disappointing of these new leaders has been Syria's president, Bashar al-Assad. While he has experimented with some economic liberalization, he has been just as truculent toward Israel as his late father, Hafez al-Assad. In Amman, he characterized Israeli society as 'even more racist than the Nazis.' In the face of such hostility and a series of terrorist attacks in recent days, Israel's reaction has been restrained. Mr. Sharon has made clear that he is willing to return to negotiations with the Palestinians as soon as Mr. Arafat orders an end to the violence.

"Israel would also respond positively to any serious diplomatic initiative from the other Arab leaders represented at Amman. Except perhaps for Saddam Hussein, every one of them has an interest in calming regional tensions and opening the way to more rapid economic progress for their people. Unfortunately, many of the leaders seem more intent on stoking tensions with Israel than tending to the needs of their own citizens."


The "Times," London, editorializes that the summit was a failure from any perspective -- politically retrograde and self-destructive. Says the editorial: "The Summit of Accord and Agreement that ended in Amman yesterday was intended to revive the league as a political force. [However], despite the best efforts of Jordan and Egypt, this meeting, the first regular summit in a decade, served instead as a showcase for all the Middle East's most retrograde and self-destructive instincts."

The "Times" says: "No one would imagine from the communiqu's silence on the subject that the main aim of this summit was to end Arab divisions over Iraq, by offering to press for an end to sanctions if Iraq affirmed its respect for Kuwaiti sovereignty, returned stolen Kuwaiti property, and accounted for missing Kuwaiti prisoners. Kuwait agreed. Iraq did not. Arab summits fan fires. They cannot douse them. They are useful only as cautionary tales, reminders of the political aridity of the fragmented Arab world."


"New York Times" writer Neil MacFarquhar says in an analysis that Iraq and Kuwait blame each other for the summit's failure to reach a consensus on ending sanctions against Iraq. The writer says: "'The Kuwaiti delegation sought to prevent the summit from coming up with a resolution that would open the door to lifting the embargo,' against Iraq, Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf, the Iraqi foreign minister, told a news conference."

MacFarquhar writes: "The Kuwaitis, while agreeing with other nations that sanctions imposed against Iraq after the invasion should end, refused to accept any Arab League resolution that lacked an explicit Iraqi promise not to threaten Kuwait again. While Saudi Arabia backed Kuwait on the issue, Mr. Sahhaf of Iraq, said, 'It's not from Iraq that the British and U.S. aircraft attack Iraq every day, killing Iraqi people and violating our sovereignty.'" He continues: "Sheik Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah, the Kuwaiti foreign minister, who headed his country's delegation, said, 'Iraq has caused the Arab summit to fail and not Kuwait.'"


Other commentary from newspapers in the United States and Germany considers Ukraine's political crisis, and Russia's questionable demilitarization. The "Chicago Tribune" says in an editorial: "Pity Ukraine, so close to Moscow, so desperate to integrate with the West."

The editorial recounts how the crisis developed after evidence became public purporting to implicate President Leonid Kuchma in the slaying of independent journalist Heorhiy Gongadze. It says: "Now opposition parties and Russian oligarchs are capitalizing on the political chaos surrounding the murder scandal. They're gaining ground by criticizing the West for forcing hard reforms on Ukraine."

The newspaper says: "It is in the U.S. interest to make sure that Ukraine has the support it needs to work through its current crisis. One way is to promote the popular, reformist government of Prime Minister Viktor Yushchenko, who has not been tainted by the scandal. This is a time for Western diplomatic and economic engagement to support Ukraine's democratic traditions, economic reforms, the rule of law, and freedom of the press."


German commentator Tomas Avenarius, writing from Moscow in the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung," says that Russian President Vladimir Putin engaged in "classic Putinism" when he announced that Russia was "demilitarizing" and then placed notorious hard-liners in key positions over the military.

The commentary says: "It is typical of Putin to have appointed his confidant, Sergei Ivanov, as defense minister [and claimed the move as evidence of demilitarization]. The former KGB officer was already one of the most powerful men in Russia in his former post as head of the Security Council."

Avenarius writes: "Ivanov's successor as head of the Security Council, former Interior Minister Vladimir Rushailo, is no softy either. The senior general is one of the men responsible for the course of the war in Chechnya. His appointment may have something to do with the not-yet-won Caucasus war and the worsening security situation."

The writer says: "Even if his friend Ivanov recently gave up his title as general, he is far from being a civilian. In reality, Putin has strengthened the power of the security forces. The fact that he has installed a woman as deputy defense minister does nothing to change this. It looks good, but it does not count for much."