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Western Press Review: Trans-Atlantic Cooperation, Missile Defense, Middle East

Prague, 5 June 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Several commentaries today look at relations between the United States and Europe, and address conflicts as well as the importance of cooperation as U.S. President George W. Bush prepares for his first official trip to the Continent. Other analyses look at missile defense and the ongoing crisis in the Middle East as Israelis and Palestinians continue to observe a fragile cease-fire.


A commentary in "The Wall Street Journal Europe" by public policy analyst Jeffrey Gedmin looks at the attention the legality of the death penalty in the U.S. is receiving in Europe, and asks why some nations are focusing on this divisive issue as the nations of Europe seek unprecedented unity with each other in the sphere of shared Western values. Gedmin writes that many EU politicians are insisting that "divergent attitudes toward the death penalty [point] to an important values gap between Americans and Europeans." He adds that this insistence persists even though "clear majorities in Britain and Central Europe actually support capital punishment [while] in Italy and Sweden public opinion is divided."

Gedmin writes that former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger may have shed some light on this paradox when he asked whether EU elites were trying to define the European Union in opposition to the U.S. Gedmin suggests that perhaps the focus on the issue of the death penalty is an example of attempts to forge unity through opposition to a common antagonist. He writes: "At a time of unparalleled opportunities for deepening trans-Atlantic cooperation and integration, at a time when the consensus of Western values appears more clearly, some EU nation-builders are apparently eager to search for, emphasize, and even fabricate, distinctions between Europeans and Americans." This, he adds, is "building 'Europe' at the trans-Atlantic expense."


In "The New York Times," former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright writes about the need for cooperation between the U.S. and Europe and the topics that will be addressed during Bush's visit to the Continent. She writes: "The main topics in Europe will be arms control, regional security policy (notably for the Balkans), and the environment. And in each case the key question will be whether, or to what degree, the Bush administration can work with our European allies."

Albright acknowledges that there are pressures on both sides of the Atlantic that, "if not stoutly resisted," have the potential to drive Europe and the U.S. apart. She writes: "[We] simply cannot afford a feeling in America that we do not need Europe -- or a feeling in Europe that it does not need America. We cannot journey safely through the 21st century on divergent paths."


An editorial in "The Washington Post" looks at the proposed U.S. missile defense system. The paper says that while the Bush administration has made some ambitious suggestions for a new system of global security that would achieve a "strategic balance among the nuclear powers" -- as well as protect against "threats from rogue states in the post-Cold War world" -- such proposals have been lacking in specifics. "Without such specifics," the paper says, "the administration cannot expect to win real support for its plan from Russia or its allies."

The paper adds: "the heart of the plan will lie in those details. They will show whether the administration is focused narrowly on defending America [or] on trying to gain a new strategic advantage over Russia or China; whether it truly can replace the Cold War security order with something that offers improved stability and safety to Europe, Russia, and Asia as well as the United States."

The paper concludes that as of yet, only one thing is clear: "The United States cannot pursue this potentially momentous leap in weapons technology unilaterally and still achieve increased security for itself, not to mention the rest of the world."


An editorial in "The New York Times" questions whether the cease-fire in the Middle East declared over the weekend will hold, and alleges that the halt to violence announced by Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat was made "under the threat of Israeli military retaliation." The paper says that Israel's current restraint in the wake of the bombing outside a Tel Aviv disco "will depend on whether Mr. Arafat quickly follows his words with deeds." It writes: "He may not be able to halt every determined suicide bomber. But he can do a lot more than he has been doing."

The paper goes on to suggest that among Arafat's options are re-arresting the terrorists he released from prison last fall, ensuring that Palestinian police strictly enforce the cease-fire, and following up on information supplied by Israel about imminent terrorist attacks. "These steps," the paper says, "could solidify the cease-fire and substantially reduce the violence."

The paper notes that the restraint shown by Israeli forces following the bombing has "rallied international opinion strongly to Israel's side." It adds that recent events have also "[strengthened] the case for more active American involvement in the Middle East." If the cease-fire holds, the paper says, Washington would be indispensable in rebuilding the cooperation that had begun to emerge. "[And] if the cease-fire collapses," it adds, "American diplomatic intervention will be needed to restrain the escalation that could easily follow."


An editorial in the French daily "Le Monde" also looks at the situation in the Middle East, and says that it is still uncertain whether Arafat's appeal for a "total and immediate cease-fire" will succeed in preventing more violence or Israeli reprisals. "He had hardly ordered the cease-fire when he was challenged in his own camp," "Le Monde" writes, "with a dozen other Palestinian organizations -- among them Hamas and the Islamic Jihad -- and Fatah, a movement of which he is the founder and leader, answering that they would not accept [the cease-fire]."

Israel's position regarding Arafat is also ambiguous, the paper says: "On one hand, they ask Yasser Arafat to stop the violence. On the other, they do everything to weaken [his position]: At the same time that [Israel] asks him to act against the [radical] Islamists, the Israeli army increases its [attempts to] overthrow the Palestinian Authority."

"Yasser Arafat was the man who knew how to protect the Palestinian national identity; it was necessary for him 'to hold fast' to his people," the paper writes. "Will he [also] be the man who, in order to consolidate the compromises that peace requires, will assume the unpopularity [inherent in] such a choice? This," the paper concludes, "is uncertain."


The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is an ongoing problem that is exacerbated when innocent civilians become the victims of terrorists. Following the latest attack in Tel Aviv, which cost the lives of some 20 youths, commentators are again prompted to pose questions and try to find answers. Peter Muench in the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" says: "There is a desire for peace, an end to violence, no more bombs, no revenge and retaliation, no more images of dying children." Unfortunately, this is not the case and, he writes, "calm alone cannot prevent the next storm."

Muench says both Israel's Ariel Sharon and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat have failed to promote calm. They have told their respective people that power lies in an offensive policy. The extremists on both sides continue to act regardless of realities, and the leaders are under pressure from their own people.

"What remains to be done?" Muench asks. In answer, he says it is up to the Palestinian leader to make the next move, writing: "Arafat must act as Sharon has demanded: first he must call for an end to violence.... He must test his power in coming to terms with Hamas and other radicals."

Likewise, he adds, Sharon cannot remain in the shadow of fear for long. Muench writes that he, too, will have to recognize that his power policy has proved a failure. "Sharon and Arafat are sorcerer-apprentice twins in the Middle East. They don't have much time to put a brake on further incitement, for the next attack is bound to occur and then they themselves could be the ones who are cast out."


"Arafat's trustworthiness and Sharon's Plan" is the headline over an editorial commenting on the Middle East problem in the Swiss "Neue Zuercher Zeitung." It questions whether the latest bloodbath has brought the Israeli and Palestinian leaders to their senses.

The paper says at least there seems to be a deviation from the usual pattern of tit-for-tat. But it adds that without doubt the new attitude is influenced by "tactical motives -- particularly bearing in mind urgently needed foreign affirmation."

Both sides are under pressure from extremists, the editorial acknowledges. It adds that "breaking out of the vicious circle of violence is only possible when seeds germinate among the Palestinian (and the Israeli) public, cultivating, after disappointed hopes, a revival of peaceful coexistence of two viable states in the former Palestinian Mandate territory and offering genuine prospects."

The paper urges the leaders must keep the truce and strive for a settlement. The editorial concludes: "The world has been waiting for a long time."


An editorial in today's "Financial Times" considers what the future role of the International Monetary Fund should be, in light of the upcoming nominations for candidates for the fund's top three posts. The paper suggests that one of the most difficult issues the fund faces is how to prevent the fluctuations in financial markets from undermining economic stability. The IMF's main focus, it writes, "should be on making countries less vulnerable to market swings. Countries with underdeveloped financial systems should avoid large capital inflows; those that let in foreign capital must have the structural policies in place [to] deal with unexpected outflows."

"The IMF should step in where there is a sudden liquidity crunch in an otherwise sound country," the paper continues, "[but] should be wary of bailing out lenders when the loss of market confidence is a product of bad policy. [Politically] motivated bail-outs should also be avoided," it adds. The paper concludes that the IMF can play only a limited role in maintaining global stability. "The momentum for change," it says, "[should] translate into a desire to get the whole international framework right."