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Western Press Review: Comments Focus On Diplomacy

Prague, 11 April 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Commentary in the Western press today touches on a number of topics. In our survey, we excerpt comments addressing the accomplishments -- if any -- of this week's German-Russian summit, some small advances and retreats in the Mideast peace process, and the need for the United States to stay engaged in the Balkans.


Tomas Avenarius comments in the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" on German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's two-day meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin He writes: "The fourth German-Russian government consultations in St. Petersburg [were] as short as they were devoid of much content. [Even] if Schroeder and Putin tended to overdo their acclamation of German-Russian ties, it cannot hide the fact that the Berlin-Moscow front has seen precious little movement in a number of important questions for a long time." He adds: "Even if politics is all about bringing divergent interests under one roof, that does not mean [that] a little bit of fervent prayer will make everything whole again. At some point, pragmatic debate must lead to results. At least Schroeder and Putin were in agreement on the language of their public statements: they were all good examples of empty words."


A commentary in the "International Herald Tribune" says Palestinian violence can end if Israel resumes negotiation. Henry Siegman, a fellow with the U.S. Council of Foreign Relations, writes: "It seems not to be understood by either Israel or the United States that the demand that Israel's new government has put forward for an unconditional cessation of Palestinian violence before negotiations resume is, in effect, a demand that Palestinians accept continuation of the occupation." He adds: "[Palestinians] will agree to end the intifada if they have reason to believe that their actions will be followed by specific Israeli measures that shield Yasser Arafat and colleagues from accusations by Palestinian opposition groups that they have capitulated to Ariel Sharon. [A] pro forma reconvening of permanent status negotiations is critical."


The "Washington Post" addresses the same issue in an editorial, saying: "Talks are needed to extinguish the short-term conflagration as well as to craft a final status deal. However reasonable it is for [Israeli Prime Minister] Sharon to demand that [Palestinian leader Yasser] Arafat stop inciting and condoning attacks, it is unrealistic to expect that a substantial de-escalation can take place in the absence of extensive consultations. That Mr. Sharon appears to acknowledge this is a positive sign."

The editorial continues: "There is at least some reason to hope that Mr. Arafat is now looking for a way out of the cycle of violence he provoked and has stoked. It has not garnered him the outpouring of international support or pressure on Israel for which he apparently hoped, and the human cost for Palestinians has been immense. However abhorrent his conduct has been, it is incumbent on the Israeli side to explore whether a willingness to calm the situation now exists."


An editorial in Britain's "Times" says U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, in Paris today for a meeting of the six-nation Contact Group for the former Yugoslavia, will find "powerful insistence [that] the United States should remain engaged." It adds: "[The] immediate focus will be on the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. [The] Contact Group must back KFOR's border reinforcements with explicit warnings to Kosovo's moderate Albanian leadership to curb the militants and cooperate with the United Nations administration. It must underpin Macedonia with a commitment to its integrity and independence. It should urge Skopje to be flexible in dealing with its Albanian minority, but must quash any terrorist attempt to instigate a civil war in the hope of creating a Greater Albania." Powell's task, it concludes, is to understand that "the Bush administration cannot keep the Balkans at arm's length. Even the hint of disengagement has given hope to extremists."


An editorial in the "Wall Street Journal Europe" looks at Britain's case of the so-called "metric martyr" -- Steve Thoburn, the grocer convicted on 9 April of violating the country's weights and measures legislation for selling fruit by the pound, rather than the kilo. The paper says: "This decision seems another pushy, culturally insensitive imposition on British daily life from clinical Continental bureaucrats. [According] to a survey of 1,000 [British supermarket customers] last year, 90 percent of consumers still 'think in' pounds and ounces. [But] while dual labeling remains common in supermarkets, as of 2009 putting imperial measurements anywhere on the label will be against the law [in Europe.]"

It adds: "Of course, all units of measurement are fundamentally arbitrary. [What] truly matters about units of measurement is that we understand the amounts and distances to which they correspond. [Mr. Thoburn's] customers know that 25 pence per pound for bananas -- about 37 U.S. cents -- is a good price. Isn't that the point?"


Addressing the Netherlands' decision yesterday to legalize euthanasia, Georg Paul Hefty writes in the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung": "The hour and manner of our death are the greatest secrets our future holds." The Dutch attempt to add a measure of control to this mystery, he adds, "disregards the precepts of the world's religions and changes the relationship among family members. When a sick person sighs: 'I wish I were dead,' it will no longer elicit sympathy and nursing care, but provide the opportunity to bind the patient to these words and begin legal proceedings, with the full approval of the state." The commentary continues: "The law saves its real horror for its regulations covering minors. For children up to the age of 16, permission need only be given by one parent. Those who are older may decide for themselves. Do they know how final death is and that there is no going back if they change their mind?"


In the "New York Times," Michael McFaul, an associate with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, defends the Bush administration's review of its Russia policy as "necessary" and "prudent." "But why," he asks, "before the review is completed, has the administration already announced plans to cut cooperative nonproliferation programs between the United States and Russia? [The proposal] to cut these programs by $100 million, or more than 10 percent, from current financing levels is bad policy and worse as symbolism."

The commentator adds: "The fewer delivery systems of nuclear weapons there are in Russia, the better. The more securely and safely stored are those nuclear materials, the better. If the Bush administration is prepared to spend [billions] of dollars on missile defense systems to protect Americans against potential threats in the future, it cannot justify cutting the already modest budget for nonproliferation programs that help diminish a real threat in existence today."


A commentary in the "Wall Street Journal Europe" looks at what it calls the "Cyprus question." Jonathan Stevenson, an analyst at London's International Institute for Strategic Studies, writes: "Since the Nice Treaty paved the way for EU enlargement, Greece has made it increasingly plain that unless the Republic of Cyprus in its entirety is included in the first wave of EU expansion scheduled for 2004 -- along with the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland -- Athens would block the admission of all other countries. Among these is Turkey, [which has threatened] to annex the Turkish-controlled part of Cyprus and force the issue of legal partition."

Stevenson continues: "Although culturally and economically a difficult European fit, Turkey is strategically important due to its military strength, its geographical proximity to the Persian Gulf and to Russia, and its membership in NATO. [The EU] and other external actors should refocus their diplomatic energies on Athens and Ankara, and encourage bilateral [exchanges. In] the present European context, [Cyprus] simply can't continue to be split. But a thaw in Greece-Turkey relations could make reunification easier for the Cypriots, and EU admission smoother for both Cyprus and Turkey."