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Western Press Review: U.S.-EU, Macedonia, Russia

Prague, 14 June 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Western press continues to be dominated today by the issues highlighting U.S. President George W. Bush's trip to Europe. Missile defense and the trans-Atlantic relationship are discussed, with commentary also focusing on U.S.-Russia relations in anticipation of Saturday's meeting in Slovenia between President Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Other analyses look at the ongoing conflict in Macedonia between the army and ethnic Albanian rebels, with many commentators calling for early and pre-emptive NATO intervention in order to avoid a more lasting and bloody Balkan conflict in the future.


An editorial in "The New York Times" says, "America's moral authority as a global champion of individual and human rights is being seriously undermined by its reliance on the death penalty." The paper observes that as U.S. President Bush heads to the European Union summit conference today in Gothenburg, he will be attending the meeting of an international organization that bars membership to any nation that has not abolished the death penalty.

The paper notes that "while viewed in America as a criminal justice issue, capital punishment is deemed a human rights matter in other democracies." The paper calls for a broad nationwide reconsideration of the question and says: "The death penalty is an unfairly administered punishment whose claims as a deterrent have been largely discredited. It is also, as Mr. Bush is learning, a foreign policy liability."


An editorial in "The Wall Street Journal Europe" says that the verdict on the overall success of President Bush's trip to the European continent had "arrived before he left Washington" -- and that it wasn't good. It adds that it is now widely known, from European media coverage, that Bush is viewed as a "cowboy" by the Europeans and that there is a "widening split" in the trans-Atlantic relationship.

The paper says that "much of the fretting about the U.S.-EU 'divide' comes down to the fact that Mr. Bush is a center-right politician visiting the European Union, where 11 out of 15 member states are run by center-left governments." It adds that President Bush's policy positions "are similar to those of many center-right European parties," of which Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar's government is an example.

"Europe is a continent, not a political philosophy," the paper writes. "There is no single 'European' view on the size of the welfare state, the proper level of taxation, and so on. [Some] center-left governments and their supporters have trouble accepting that opposing points of view are at all legitimate," it adds. The paper concludes: "It is this widely accepted and unfortunate culture of intolerance for political diversity promoted in Western Europe, of all places, by its elites that accounted for writing off Mr. Bush before his plane landed."


The French daily "Le Monde" says that despite continued uncertainty among NATO allies about a missile defense system, Bush should nonetheless try to defend his views in what the paper calls "other trans-Atlantic disputes" at his meeting with EU leaders in Sweden today. The paper argues in an editorial that since Bush seems to be satisfied with the limited progress he made in convincing NATO allies of the merits of missile defense, he should now turn his attention to the issue of the environment -- an issue, the editorial says, that "tops the list of subjects of contention."

"Le Monde" writes further that Bush's repudiation of the Kyoto Protocol, which seeks to place mandatory limits on greenhouse gas emissions, "aroused [the] unanimous disapproval of the Europeans." The paper notes that European leaders have reiterated their "firm will" to see the protocol implemented.

It concludes that although many issues continue to be disputed between the U.S. and Europe, on subjects of major international importance the Western allies should present a united front in order to achieve results -- such as a collaboration on finding a successful solution to the Middle East.


A "Financial Times" editorial says that the most important aspect of Bush's meeting with NATO allies was his "stated readiness to re-engage Russia in a dialogue of cooperation." The paper writes that on the face of it, Bush seems to be pursuing two conflicting goals: both NATO enlargement and enhanced cooperation with Russia. Bush seeks "a new phase of NATO enlargement [which would] include some parts of the former Soviet Union -- notably the three Baltic republics. Hitherto that has been anathema to Moscow."

The editorial goes on: "The only way to persuade [Russian President] Vladimir Putin [to] accept that sort of NATO enlargement is to convince him that NATO is a different creature from what it was in the Cold War. Russia must be more involved in the structures of its old enemy."

For its part, the paper adds, NATO must reassure Russia by being "better focused on peacekeeping and peace-making and less on defense against old [Soviet] threats." The editorial says that to pursue both goals is "an admirable ambition but it does mean engaging in a new debate on NATO's post-Cold War role. If Russia is left clearly outside the NATO tent, it is hard to see how the old Cold War attitudes can be buried."


In a commentary for "Die Welt," Nikolaus Blome defends Bush's European tour. He says that while the president has had little experience in international affairs, he set out on his tour well-prepared. He writes: "International decision-making will always depend on personalities. From that point of view, a visit of this kind is very useful. Nevertheless," he adds, "there are undertones that the two sides no longer understand each other correctly, and they don't seem to care."

Blome approves of the EU's effort to remain independent of the United States on some issues and considers it natural that the U.S. president's concern is first and foremost his own country. But he finds that between the two sides today "there exists a rare lack of communication and interest."


A news analysis by William Drozdiak and Dana Milbank of "The Washington Post" looks at what they call the U.S. president's "zealous campaign" to convince NATO allies of the value and feasibility of a missile defense system. They write: "In an impassioned appeal, Bush told alliance leaders that 'the nuclear balance of terror' that kept the peace with the Soviet Union no longer made sense. He insisted the United States and its partners must prepare for threats spawned by the spread of weapons of mass destruction and break out of constraints imposed by the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, which limits the construction of missile defense systems."

The analysts say that while some alliance leaders "praised [the U.S. president's] vow to consult extensively with the allies, Bush's proclaimed determination to deploy missile defenses as soon as possible has stirred consternation among allies who suspect he is feigning interest in their views but will ultimately disregard them." They quote an unnamed senior European diplomat as asking, "If Bush has already decided to go ahead with breaking the ABM Treaty and building his project, then how are we supposed to believe that these consultations have any meaning?"


A commentary by Balkans-affairs analyst Misha Glenny in the "International Herald Tribune" says that all attempts to find a political solution to the crisis in Macedonia have so far proved unworkable. He writes: "Each new initiative appears to collapse within days," and adds, "It is impossible to address the mainstream Albanians' legitimate grievances in such an atmosphere."

Glenny says that EU, UN, and OSCE diplomats working have all "concluded that swift NATO action in Macedonia is essential to prevent another major catastrophe in the region." He says further that Macedonia is primarily a European problem, and suggests that Bush might need "a lot of persuading" to agree to commit more U.S. troops to the region.

Glenny concludes: "The EU should present the case [for NATO intervention] forcefully to President Bush. A strong NATO presence to persuade the [ethnic Albanian National Liberation Army] of the futility of armed struggle is all that is needed to get Macedonia's process of political dialogue back on track." He adds: "The costs would be minimal compared with those that would be caused [by] full-scale civil war."