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Western Press Review: Transatlantic Relations, The Mideast, Germany's Communist Past

Prague, 21 August 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Relations between the United States and European Union nations are the subject of several commentaries in the Western press today. Other topics include various analyses of the situation in the Middle East, Poland's economy, Germany's communist past, and the conflict in Macedonia. In a contribution to the Guardian, former NATO commander Wesley Clark calls for swift intervention in the Balkan nation. Otherwise, he warns, NATO risks "reawakening the ghosts of the 1990s."


In "The Wall Street Journal Europe," columnist George Melloan considers a recent Pew Research opinion poll commissioned by the International Herald Tribune. The results appear to indicate that the policies of U.S. President George W. Bush are unpopular among the European public. Melloan questions this result, and suggests that contrary to recent claims, trans-Atlantic ties are as firm as ever.

Melloan also says European skepticism of the Bush administration is to be expected. He writes: "The U.S. is unique at this historical moment in that it is the one country on the planet whose policies everyone must take seriously. If the one remaining superpower botches up its foreign policy, a great many people will suffer. So it's a rather natural reaction abroad to view a newcomer to the world's most powerful office with some skeptical concern. All those teeming millions don't vote in America's elections, but they know they have a stake in the outcomes."

Melloan goes on to note that much criticism of the American president accuses him of being too "unilateral," focusing only on the narrow interests of the U.S. He writes, "One question that must be asked is whether the best interests of Americans are always antithetical to those of Europeans, or for that matter, of any other peoples of the world."


In the "International Herald Tribune," U.S.-based international relations professor Daniel Thomas suggests that Europe and the United States need to establish "a new relationship suited to the realities of the 21st century." He notes that a changing world demands renewed and adaptive relationships, adding, "Given the likelihood that new powers will emerge in the coming decades that do not share the core values of the United States and the European Union, a strong trans-Atlantic relationship could be critical to sustaining the current liberal international order."

Thomas adds that U.S. policymakers have yet to appreciate the significance of Europe's move toward a common foreign and security policy, and remarks that they still consider the European role in NATO to be as members of an American-led alliance. As a result, he writes: "American officials have not yet shown themselves ready to work with the European Union to build a new, more egalitarian trans-Atlantic partnership. They must begin doing so now, if they are to prepare for the day when the European Union is able to cooperate with the United States out of choice rather than necessity."

Thomas warns that "unless both sides begin the hard work of building a new strategic relationship, escalating disputes over arms control, trade, the environment and the death penalty could so weaken the relationship that they can't cooperate when they really need each other."


An editorial in "The Jerusalem Post" considers Egypt's diplomatic role in the Middle East. The Post says that until recently, Egypt could be expected to maintain a distinctly pro-Palestinian stance. But recently, Egypt seems to have realized that only international pressure will induce Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to return to negotiations.

The editorial says: "No one expects Egypt to express support for Israel, but Egypt can send a similar signal by returning to normal diplomatic relations. When Egypt recalled its ambassador to Israel while Ehud Barak was still prime minister, it sent exactly the wrong message: The most forthcoming Israeli government was met by the most hostile Egyptian response since peace was reached between the two countries."

The paper calls on Egypt to take an increasing leadership role in the conflict. It suggests that "Sending the Egyptian ambassador back to Israel now would be a clear signal that Egypt wants to see relations with Israel return to normal and is willing to lead the way back to the negotiating table by its own example. [Egypt] has shown in the past that it can lead the way toward peace. The region needs to see that sense of leadership again."


Commenting on Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer's visit to the Middle East, the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" says in an editorial that it is his intention to set in motion the realization of the peace plans put forward by former U.S. Senator George Mitchell.

Fischer also stresses that his mission is strictly sanctioned by his European partners. The editorial says: "Germany's special relationship to Israel cannot offer in mediation anything comparable to the United States. Nevertheless a stronger engagement, balanced and constructive, is possible."

The commentary goes on to assess the German minister's contribution to solving the conflict: "Fischer, like other Europeans, is capable of rendering good service. But in the end the Americans will be given preference."


In the Austrian newspaper "Die Presse," Christian Ultsch welcomes Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres' initiative for a meeting with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and a possible multiphased cease-fire with the Palestinians as a gesture by the only dove in the Israeli government. This, the commentator says in praise of Peres, is the only hope for a settlement of the conflict.

He writes: "Peres has not destroyed the bridges to PLO chief Yasser Arafat. He has not reviled him as a 'liar and murderer.' It is up to the Israelis to employ the right kind of strategy in the face of an Arafat who must assert his authority vis-a-vis the terrorists. For only a strong Arafat is a good partner for negotiations."


The "Sueddeutsche Zeitung's" Thorston Schmitz says the new peace initiative launched by Shimon Peres will not save the peace process from bankruptcy: "Peace was first envisaged in the so-called 'Oslo Accord' as a final settlement between Israel and Palestine. Then the Intifada broke out and peace became synonymous with keeping this process alive. After 10 months, and following the death of more than 650 Palestinians and Israelis, there is only talk of a truce. This, currently, is the least and the highest goal to be achieved. Yet this negotiated truce is being broken continuously by both sides."

There seems to be no solution, Schmitz says. "The step-by-step plan to set aside force is just another placebo which cannot induce a cure. A cure would be the evacuation of the 200,000 Jewish settlers."

Although noting that efforts are being made by Peres to negotiate with Arafat, the commentary concludes: "Arafat has shown, in initiating the Intifada, that he does not care for diplomacy. It is his desire to go down in the history of his people as a revolutionary fighter, who has stood adamant in the face of Israeli offers."


In an analysis in the French daily "Liberation," Jerusalem correspondent Alexandra Schwartzbrod writes that as the UN Security Council opened its first public debate in five months on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict yesterday, German Foreign Secretary Joschka Fischer began a trip to the Middle East, where he is scheduled to meet with both Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

Schwartzbrod writes: "If the UN meeting promises to determine little due to the refusal of Israel -- supported by the United States -- to 'internationalize' the conflict, Joschka Fischer hopes to renew the diplomatic success which he had won in the region in June when he convinced Israelis and Palestinians to announce a cease-fire."

But she says that two very negative signs yesterday have already tarnished the meager hopes for Fischer's trip to the region: In the Arab sector of Jerusalem, Israeli bulldozers demolished a nursery school and a block of flats, with the explanation that they were "illegal." Additionally, European observers from the Temporary International Presence in Hebron, or TIPH, suspended their patrols in the area protected by the Israeli army to protest against repeated attacks by extremist colonists. They assert that they will not return until their safety is guaranteed.


A "Financial Times" editorial says that Poland is running into economic difficulties ahead of next month's elections. Slow growth, a decrease in foreign direct investment, and rising unemployment are all adding to the nation's woes.

The paper suggests: "The government and opposition should agree upon a sensible package as soon as possible to avoid further harm to Poland's economic reputation. The currency has already fallen by nearly 15 percent against the euro since May. Any further decline could seriously damage the confidence of international investors. Beyond that, the new government has a big task in tackling corruption and re-establishing trust in the administration, notably in privatization policy."

The paper says that more privatization, cuts in loss-making industries such as coal, and labor market liberalization are also needed. It writes: "This is a tricky agenda. [But] Poland's future depends on it. Without a fresh start to reform, growth and employment would suffer. So, ultimately, would accession to the European Union."


An eidtorial in "The Wall Street Journal Europe" applauds the German government's decision this week to put its archive of an old East German propaganda television show, "Der Schwarze Kanal" ("The Black Channel"), on the Internet ( The Journal says that, "With the resurgence of the 'reformed' communist party in Berlin and in some blighted industrial cities in eastern Germany, officials decided to remind Germans and the world of the evils of communism. [Nostalgia] may be sanding away the rough edges of memory. Doubtless many jobless Germans think fondly of a time that seemed more orderly, while forgetting the fear of a night-time knock on the door. If they were lucky, their worst memories of state socialism were of the police asking why their television antennas pointed West. If they weren't, there was always the gulag."

The paper calls the series "a time capsule of the repressive catechism of communism," and says that for all of those too young to remember living under communism, the website archive could not have come at a better time. This site "may be the best medicine for resurgent communism," the paper writes.


In a contribution to "The New York Times," Wesley Clark, commander of NATO forces during the Kosovo campaign, writes that decisive NATO intervention is necessary in Macedonia to prevent the country from splitting along ethnic lines. Clark says that the current plan to send 3,500 NATO troops to collect weapons from ethnic Albanian insurgents is not enough.

He writes: "[Sending] these troops with such a restricted mandate belies NATO's commitment. [If] we have learned one thing in the breakup of the former Yugoslavia, it is the need to act early and robustly in a crisis."

Clark says that as NATO deliberated whether or not to intervene, the escalating violence caused local Albanians to join the ranks of fighters, and both ethnic Macedonian and Albanian political leaders were pushed to extremes in the conflict -- weakening moderate positions and the chances for compromise.

He adds that, in spite of the limited agreement reached between Macedonian and ethnic Albanian political leaders, "most likely, Albanian weapons will be hidden and Slav paramilitaries organized while both sides quibble and dispute the implementation of the agreement. Bitterness will undermine moderate leaders. The smallest incident may be cited as proof of the other side's insincerity."

Clark concludes: "If NATO is serious about making democracy work in this fractious corner of Europe, then Western forces need to enter as soon as possible, engage as broadly as possible and stay as long as necessary."

(RFE/RL's Dora Slaba contributed to this report.)