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Western Press Review: Balkans, U.S., EU, IMF

Prague, 25 May 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Several commentaries in today's Western press re-examine the situation in the Balkans in light of yesterday's deployment of Yugoslav troops into the last section of the Kosovo buffer zone and statements by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, hinting that the U.S. might be looking to withdraw its troops from Bosnia. Other topics addressed include EU expansion, reforming the International Monetary Fund, and the upcoming CIS summits in Yerevan and Minsk, which may lead to the creation of a new political-military body in the region of Central-Eastern Europe.


A commentary by Carlotta Gall in "The New York Times" calls the deployment of Yugoslav troops into the Kosovo buffer zone "one step forward and three steps back." While the Albanians are being assured that they have no reason to fear the advancing Yugoslav troops, she says, Albanian rebels "are highly mistrustful of Serbian intentions and say they are leaving only because they trust NATO and foreign observers to ensure that Serbian forces do not mistreat the Albanian inhabitants."

She adds that the UN refugee agency has been warning of the dangers of allowing Serbian forces into the region. Gall quotes Eric Morris, head of the agency in Kosovo and Serbia, as saying: "I don't think you can give [the Serbs] the benefit of the doubt. [The] crux is the complete fear and mistrust of the Albanian population for the Yugoslav police. [It] is not hatred, it is fear." The UN's Morris adds: "The West wants a quick fix and to disengage as soon as possible."


Writing in the "International Herald Tribune," Gareth Evans, the former foreign minister of Australia, suggests that the U.S. would be premature in withdrawing troops from Bosnia. A unilateral U.S. withdrawal, he writes, "won't be very helpful to a peace process which is now at an extremely fragile stage." He says that "gutting the stabilization force (SFOR) would send precisely the wrong message to Croatian and Serbian extremists who are presently testing the Dayton peace accords to the limit." SFOR's stabilization task is not complete, he adds, and "recent events attest to peace's fragility and the need for a credible SFOR presence."

Evans says that a "viable multiethnic Bosnian state can be built," and that "far from contemplating new reductions, NATO should focus on meeting the conditions it set when it reduced troop strength in Bosnia." He concludes that "the U.S. contingent is the superpower's pledge that a viable Bosnian state will be built."


In a news analysis in "The Washington Post" today, Nora Boustany looks at recent comments by Greek Foreign Minister George Papandreou on the importance of maintaining an international force to ensure stability in the Balkans. She quotes the minister as saying: "Unluckily, the situation in the region is not yet stable enough to say that we can just pull out and leave. And I'm talking about, not simply the United States, I'm talking about all of us."

Papandreou added that a more active engagement by the United States in "a political process of stabilization" could speed the withdrawal of troops from the area. "The emphasis now should be on dealing with the issues, rather than disengaging," he said. The minister added that the prospect of including the nations of Southeastern Europe in the European Union would help them address their historic tensions -- like those between Turkey and Greece over the divided island of Cyprus -- in a different way.


An editorial in "The Economist" discusses European Union expansion and says that despite all their rhetoric about unity and solidarity, current members become extremely self-interested when determining the conditions under which the EU will accept poorer nations into its fold.

The editorial looks at issues raised recently by Germany, Spain, and France, who do not want to lose certain privileges when the Union admits the first wave of new members. The article suggests that the EU should use enlargement as an opportunity to reform certain programs that have not proven effective.

"It would be nice to think that the prospect of enlargement could be used to force the existing 15 [members] to reform both the CAP (Common Agricultural Policy) and the regional funds in advance, [but] it risks playing into the hands of those who would delay the EU's expansion indefinitely."

The magazine adds: "If the EU has at some point to choose which should take priority, spending reform or enlargement, the answer should be clear: enlargement first." Once new members have joined, the magazine continues, they can help the EU restructure spending policy, rather than "having to accept a fait accompli rigged against them."


An editorial in "The Wall Street Journal Europe" looks at what it considers to be the recent failings of the International Monetary Fund and calls upon U.S. President George W. Bush's administration to address them. The paper writes that the administration of former U.S. President Bill Clinton "pioneered the era of giant bailouts" by donating funds to countries when their economies collapsed. Such policies, it continues, carry the risk "that one big bailout leads investors to expect more, which leads to further rash investments, and fresh crises -- [the] moral hazard problem." The newspaper cites a report by economist Allan Meltzer, quoting him as saying that the IMF ultimately "undermines the sovereignty and democratic processes of member governments receiving assistance [and] creates disincentives for debt resolution," as nations continue to look to the Fund for more aid.

"What needs fundamental resolution," "The Wall Street Journal Europe" continues, "is that any reform must include a sufficiently radical, credible message to the world's financiers that there will be no more IMF subsidies for their bad investments." The expansion of free trade, it concludes, can succeed "only if the world's new trading nations are encouraged to adopt policies that create economic incentive for their people."


In his commentary in "The Wall Street Journal Europe," analyst Vladimir Socor writes that the upcoming CIS summits in Yerevan and Minsk "will witness new attempts to create a political-military bloc under Russia's leadership, ostensibly in order to combat international terrorism." He believes the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) "is a genuine international terrorist movement. [Many] observers in the region and beyond have had to conclude that Moscow allows the IMU a certain leeway [to] increase the [Central Asian] countries' sense of insecurity, render them dependent on Russian assistance and pull them into a Russian-led bloc under the banner of antiterrorism."

Socor adds that this strategy "is well understood in most CIS countries; but not all are strong enough to cope with the manipulative use of the terrorism threat," and concludes: "The upcoming summits will probably highlight a gap between two groups of countries: a core group that will form, however reluctantly, antiterrorist collective forces under Russian command, and another group -- the CIS soft periphery -- of countries that strive to preserve their non-bloc status."


In the "International Herald Tribune" William Pfaff calls on the United States and the EU to work together to pressure the Israelis and Palestinians to adhere to the proposals outlined in the recently released Mitchell Report. After the failure of exhaustive negotiations, Pfaff writes, the only "logical settlement [is] a return to pre-1967 borders, accompanied by international guarantees, without a Palestinian right of return to Israel proper."

He adds that since "U.S. diplomatic and military support, and its financial aid, are all but indispensable to Israel, [the] possibility exists that the United States could place decisive pressure on Israel to withdraw from the colonies" and accept such a settlement. Since the EU provides the Palestinians with diplomatic backing and collaborates with moderate Arab governments, Pfaff continues, "Europe is theoretically in a position to impose [Palestinian] compliance with a settlement on pre-1967 borders." Such a common effort by the West, Pfaff concludes, "might conceivably succeed where all before has failed."