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Western Press Review: UN Conference On Racism, Khatami's Reforms, Macedonia

Prague, 28 August 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Commentary in the Western press today looks at the UN conference on racism that begins on 31 August in Durban, South Africa; Iranian President Mohammad Khatami's attempts at reform; and the economies of the Central Asian states, among other issues.

Analysis also focuses once again on the situation in the Middle East, in light of the death yesterday (27 August) of a prominent Palestinian leader, Abu Ali Mustafa (also known as Mustafa Zibri) of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. Mustafa was killed yesterday in an Israeli helicopter attack. Commentaries also look at the ongoing NATO-led disarmament of ethnic Albanian rebels in Macedonia.


An editorial in "The Washington Post" says that the UN's World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance -- set to begin on 31 August in Durban, South Africa -- "has highlighted one of the world's most serious and intractable problems -- and through cynical and irresponsible diplomacy, threatens to make it worse."

The paper says that the wording of a controversial passage likening Israel's Zionist ideology to racism -- and the threatened U.S. boycott of the conference if this wording is not amended -- may set in motion a chain of events that will drive convention participants farther apart ideologically, rather than closer together. U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell has already announced that he will not be attending the conference because of offensive language concerning Israel.

The "Post" remarks that, in theory, one of the roles of the UN should be to focus global attention and spur action on specific issues.

"[But] in recent years it has mostly tried and failed. Practical targets too often have been replaced by grandiose themes; the trend has been toward the convocation of big, expensive, windy conferences about overly broad issues."

The paper concludes that from this conference, "no one should expect much in the way of practical benefit -- not for India's lowest castes, not for immigrant workers in Saudi Arabia, not for the reputation of the United Nations."


"Die Welt" carries a commentary by Jacques Schuster in which he expresses the view that some Arab states are intent on transforming the antiracism summit into a discussion condemning Zionism. Schuster writes, "For years now the democrats have been unable to assert themselves in the United Nations. Ever more, the [assembly] is subjected to the absurd resolutions of national communities. The ultimate is expressed in Resolution 3379. This regards Zionism as 'a form of racism and racial discrimination.'"

There are, of course, many other issues on the agenda of the Durban summit, such as the exploitation of millions throughout the world, discrimination against women, the mistreatment of Tibet by the Chinese, the attacks on the white population in Zimbabwe. "But under the circumstances, none of these problems is likely to be treated successfully," says Schuster.

Moreover, worse than the possible failure of the conference is a reversion to the fanaticism of the recent past. "Under the cover of a program to eliminate racism, anti-Semitism is to be officially supported -- but that is anti-Semitism promoted by self-appointed 'anti-racists.' Only the gods know how this can resolve the Middle East conflict," Schuster concludes.


A "Financial Times" editorial considers the reform efforts of Iranian President Mohammad Khatami and the debate last week over his cabinet choices. The reformist parliament eventually confirmed his appointments, although "only after making clear its displeasure with the choices."

The paper writes: "Iran's president, at least in theory, can now get down to business. He appears to believe that consensus can be reached between the factions on some issues, with the economy taking center stage. [But] whether conservatives and reformists can agree on accelerating privatization and opening the economy to foreign investors is far from clear. Economic reforms threaten the large business interests controlled by hard-liners. So any bold move on the economy could produce a fierce backlash."

The paper concludes that "change is coming slowly to Iran. But Mr. Khatami can be credited with preserving stability and improving relations with the West. His message to parliament and to the nation last week was that they must continue to place their trust in him. Given Iran's social and political tensions," it says, "that trust will be difficult to maintain."


In a contribution to "Eurasia Review," University of New Mexico political science professor Gregory Gleason examines the treaty signed last month between the Central Asian states forming a united regional energy grid and allowing them to barter commodities for energy. Nations in the region with abundant water have few energy resources, while states with strong energy infrastructures lack water.

If successful, Gleason says, this grid may help harmonize Central Asian power interests -- but sharing water may yet prove difficult. "The new grid can't erase all the political one-upmanship that states deploy in resource allocation. [The] new grid can restrict some of this behavior, but it cannot value water -- a commodity over which states are already squabbling."

While some politicians argue that water should be priced to reflect its value as any other commodity, others consider this unacceptable and a violation of international norms. Gleason writes: "This impasse illustrates that even with a new unified grid, oil-producing states control bigger purses and can distort natural resources' value. Water is certainly more crucial to life than oil, but legal precedent continues to support the oil-producing states."

He quotes a Central Asian energy analyst as saying, "When oil and water mix, oil is likely to come out on top." Gleason concludes: "A centralized power grid can streamline the exchange of electricity, but it cannot balance the other kind of power."


An editorial in "The Times" calls Britain's immigration policy "an incoherent patchwork of stopgap expedients." It calls on the British government to streamline the process and perhaps adopt some of the policies used in other nations to improve its own procedures.

Britain urgently needs to adopt "a clear immigration strategy; without one, asylum policy will continue to be chaotic. One neglected reason why there are so many would-be refugees is that, even though Britain needs foreign manpower, unskilled as well as skilled, it is impossibly hard for workers to gain entry by any legal route."

"The Times" writes: "The key thing is that Britain should be active in the global race to recruit talent. Far from being a drain on the nation, incomers pay more in taxes than they receive in benefits. They enrich it in other ways too. [Albert] Einstein was a refugee; [Christopher] Columbus was a migrant. There is a strong case to be made for immigration. Intelligently approached, labor mobility is something to be celebrated, not feared."


In the French daily "Liberation," Jerusalem correspondent Alexandra Schwartzbrod writes that the killing yesterday of Abu Ali Mustafa (also known as Mustafa Zibri), leader of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, represents a dangerous escalation of tensions between Israelis and Palestinians. This latest assassination, she says, carried out by ultra-precise missiles fired through an office window, is the latest in a series of targeted killings of Palestinian leaders that Israel considers to be inciting violence in the region.

These "targeted interceptions," Schwartzbrod says, have become the main means used by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's government against the Palestinians. She writes: "Supported by the population, which sees in them a means to eliminate dangerous 'terrorists' [while] limiting collateral damage (the accidental murder of civilians), these actions are also considered to be compatible with the principles of Judaism." She quotes Israel's vice minister of foreign affairs, Michael Melchior, as saying that Jewish law advises "the one that comes to kill you, outstrip him and kill him."


In "The Irish Times," Michael Jansen also considers Mustafa's death. He writes: "Since Abu Ali was the most senior political figure among the 50 prominent people Israel has assassinated since last October, his death will have a greater resonance among Palestinians than earlier victims. [It] is unlikely that Abu Ali was responsible for the string of bombings and shooting attacks for which he is blamed by Israel. He was a returnee, an exile who settled back in his homeland; the military wing of the PFLP (Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine), now a tiny faction with the support of only 2-3 percent of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, is dominated by young Palestinians raised in the territories who do not take orders from aging returnees. Today's activists are not gentlemen revolutionaries but hard men, their steel tempered by the occupation and two insurrections."


An editorial in "The Independent" says that, despite the death of British soldier Ian Collins -- killed when unidentified youths hurled a block of concrete through the windshield of his Jeep -- as well as the inevitable other casualties to come, NATO must persevere in Macedonia. The paper says that, as the casualties mount, more voices will be raised in opposition, asking whether NATO needs to be there at all.

"To which the answer must be an emphatic yes," the paper writes. "The Macedonian conflict is much less clear-cut than was often the case in the Balkans in the Milosevic era. But that is no reason to seek to stand clear of the explosions, with a Chamberlain-style insouciance about small faraway countries of which we know little. One thing that the Macedonian conflict has in common with the Bosnian and the Kosovo conflict is that ignoring the problems now would only store up worse problems to come -- not just in Macedonia but across the region."


An editorial in "The Wall Street Journal Europe" says that NATO's Macedonian operation gives rise to as many questions as answers. If the peace plan fails and NATO must resort to other measures, how long is the alliance prepared to stay in the country? It writes: "And what explains the chasm between NATO's weapons estimates and those of Macedonian Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski? NATO says its target of 3,300 weapons to be turned in by the ethnic Albanian rebels is 'meaningful'...[Georgievski] says NATO's figures are 'ridiculous and humiliating' and speaks of 60,000 weapons."

The paper goes on to examine the motivation behind the ethnic Albanian insurgency: "The rebels took to arms because they recognized and exploited a pattern created after Bosnia: You rise, and the West will step in to prevent a bloodbath. The West is rightly trying to stop a slaughter that could conceivably draw in other countries. [It] can be hoped that the Albanians will be content with the political concessions that they have received and not demand status as a permanent Western protectorate."

The paper advises, "The West should make it clear to them that such status is not part of the plan, and at the same time remind the Macedonian government that its decrepit army was nowhere close to victory, so it, too, has won from this plan."

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