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Western Press Review: Mideast Peace And U.S. Attacks

Prague, 26 September 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Western press commentary takes a turn toward the broader issues in the Middle East, in light of today's meeting between Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. Analyses also continue to focus on the aftermath of the 11 September attacks on New York and Washington, as preparations for the newly renamed "Operation Enduring Freedom" continue. Several commentators focus on Afghanistan and what can be done to stabilize the nation thought to be the hideout of the prime suspect in the U.S. attacks, Osama bin Laden, while avoiding a deepening humanitarian crisis in the region.


An editorial in "The Washington Post" looks at the likelihood of success for today's meeting between Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. The paper writes: "The [11 September] attacks have created an opportunity for a de-escalation of the violence that has raged for the past year and a return to a political process. Mr. Arafat may understand that he cannot afford to be on the wrong side of an American war, as he was during the Gulf crisis. And in the wake of his cease-fire order, the violence has, in fact, dropped notably."

But the editorial goes on to say that there are already "troubling signs." It writes: "Some of Mr. Arafat's lieutenants have suggested that the cease-fire orders apply only to Palestinian-controlled areas, not to settlements or military targets. [At] the same time, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's insistence on periods of absolute calm before political discussions can be renewed gives a veto over progress to any Palestinian with a gun."

The "Post" says that "a working cease-fire [is] certainly not something to jettison out of fear of a meeting that would give Mr. Arafat legitimacy. [Sharon] has used the current crisis to try to isolate the Palestinian Authority," writes the paper, noting that Sharon has likened Arafat to the prime suspect in the 11 September terrorist attacks, Osama bin Laden. It writes: "[Arafat] is not a bin Laden. He is, rather, the leader of a people without whose consent Israel can have no peace...."


An editorial in "The Independent" also looks at events in the Middle East in the wake of the terrorist attacks on the United States. It writes that, since the bombings, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has "intensified attacks on the Palestinians, thinking the West would turn a blind eye. He sent his forces into [towns] which are supposed to be under Palestinian self-rule, launched helicopter missile assaults on the Gaza Strip and tightened Israel's grip on mainly Arab east Jerusalem.

"Meanwhile," the editorial continues, "[Palestinian leader Yasser] Arafat, far from aligning himself with the Islamic lunatic fringe, has cannily gone the extra mile to court U.S. opinion."

The editorial says that Sharon is working against his own best interests by escalating the situation in the Middle East at a time when the West is seeking the support of moderate Arab states. It writes: "[Sharon] is hindering both the fight against terrorism and his own nation's cause. By underestimating the degree to which the West needs the support of moderate Arab states and Iran in its fight to destroy Osama bin Laden's organization, he threatens to wreck the creation of a broad-based coalition. And if he damages these efforts, he will also dent the support in America and Europe for Israel."

The editorial concludes, "The Americans may be very close to Israel, but Mr. Sharon will be making a mistake of historic dimensions if he forces them to choose between maintaining their alliance with Israel and winning the wider war against terror."


In the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung," columnist Guenther Nonnenmacher considers Russian President Vladimir Putin's address to the German parliament yesterday (25 September), in which he pledged Russian support for the "war against terrorism," including military and overflight access to the Commonwealth of Independent States.

Nonnenmacher calls it "a remarkable sign that Russia, after initial hesitation, is now willing to allow the United States a presence in a region it regards as belonging to its own sphere of influence...." However, he says that it is also obvious that Putin "is reckoning with the advantages this accommodation in the give-and-take of international relations will bring him."

Nonnenmacher writes: "The first changes are already visible. The issue of Chechnya is no longer dealt with under the rubric of 'human rights,' but falls under the category of 'terrorism' and 'radical Islam.'"

In the future, Nonnenmacher continues, "the West will be unable to politely ignore Mr. Putin's courteous requests, always clearly recognizable as demands, to include his country in an 'effective mechanism' of international cooperation and give it the right to be involved in future decisions."

Since the 11 September attacks, he says, "the idea that the Cold War is over and Europe thus needs a new security architecture has taken on a significance that goes beyond the familiar, inconsequential rhetoric."


Russian President Putin has chosen to make his presence felt in Europe. He is described by Karl Grobe in the "Frankfurter Rundschau" today as the "chief tenant." His speech yesterday to the German parliament, says Grobe, was an exercise "in a convincing campaign for partnership, mutual confidence and cooperation."

Putin, of course, was eager to press Russia's own cause. He noted that the terrorist attack on New York and Washington coincided exactly with the terrorist attack on buildings in Moscow two years ago, which provided the impulse for the war in Chechnya. Thus, Grobe reasons, Putin's interest in a new security alliance.

But, says Grobe, while Russia's president describes his country's aims as comprising desires for democracy, freedom, and an enhancement of the economy, which can only meet with general approval, partners must also be critical. They require openness, Grobe concludes.


In a contribution to "The Washington Post," Larry Thompson of Refugees International enumerates the difficulties faced by the people of Afghanistan and warns against an immoderate military response.

He writes: "Given the fragility of life in Afghanistan, any military operation there is bound to hurt the people. The U.S. experience in the Gulf War suggests the importance of anticipating and minimizing refugee flows and starvation. In the Gulf War, the United States did not plan for civilian displacement and was caught by surprise when more than 2 million Kurds fled..."

Thompson continues: "The most appalling and universally condemned aspect of the terrorist attacks was the targeting of innocent civilians. The United States cannot afford to be accused of doing the same in its response."

Thompson adds that the United States needs to find a way to resume relief operations and get food aid flowing to the nation, because the war is against terrorists -- and not the Afghan people. And, he says, this is not only a humanitarian issue, but one of security as well. "A humanitarian disaster in Afghanistan or elsewhere, if attributed to U.S. military operations, could leave the American people even more vulnerable to terrorism in the future."


In a contribution to the "International Herald Tribune," former U.S. State Department official Donald G. Gross emphasizes the need for the creation in Afghanistan of what he calls "a new government of national unity that brings together the country's major ethnic groups and has the support of the international community." This government, he says, should include not only the Northern Alliance -- who have been fighting the Taliban for years -- but also moderate leaders of the Afghani Pashtun community.

Gross writes: "If a major purpose of U.S. and international intervention is to establish a legitimate broad-based government in Afghanistan, America will not suffer the fate of the Soviets and the British who tried to conquer the country and ultimately retreated ignominiously. Rather, the people will rally to the new government, which they will come to see as offering liberation and providing real hope for the future. [The] United States and its allies must use all the resources and influence at their disposal to help create a government of national unity," Gross writes. "Had the Afghans been able to do this by themselves during the last 20 years, the Taliban would never have been able to establish their tyrannical regime."


An editorial in the French daily "Le Monde" says that with the signing of an order to freeze the assets of 27 organizations with suspected links to terrorism, U.S. President George W. Bush delivered "a financial strike before the military strike." This decision, the editorial says, is significant because it will raise issues of bank confidentiality and force financial havens and countries with lax regulations on financial crime to cooperate. The financial aspect of the fight against terrorism will also be long, says the paper, because the bin Laden network "transfers cash, in small quantities and at the same moment, and avoids official banks by using [secret] circuits...."

The United States assumed the right to take this action, says the paper, "justifiably but unilaterally." The paper suggests that the Europeans should make it a point to acquire a corresponding power to similarly scrutinize American banks. In addition, "Le Monde" says, they should ensure that "the United States does not extend its framework of fighting terrorism in order to strengthen, with complete impunity, their influence over the world economy."


In "The New York Times," Paul Krugman considers the effect the West's dependency on oil has on international affairs, particularly in the Middle East. He says that oil "is part of the back story to the terrorist attack. Apparently the greatest single motivating factor for the terrorists was [the] continuing presence of American soldiers in Saudi Arabia. That presence is a legacy of the Gulf War. And while the Gulf War did involve defending a small nation against aggression, we probably wouldn't have waged that war, or maintained a permanent military presence in the region, if it weren't for the oil."

He continues: "[As] long as oil is important to modern economies, the Persian Gulf will remain strategically crucial. This presumably means that the West will have to maintain a military presence in the region, with all the tensions that creates." Krugman goes on to note that there have been few, if any, realistic proposals to alter this dependency.

"So what is the answer?" Krugman asks. "For the present and for some years to come there is no way to escape the awkward reality that the oil reserves of the Middle East are crucial to the world economy. If that dependence is ever to end, [we'll] have to find a way, through some combination of technological innovation and radical policies, to wean not just the United States but the world economy as a whole from its dependence on oil."


In the "International Herald Tribune," former European Commission representative to Washington Roy Denman writes that the trans-Atlantic alliance to combat terrorism faces "a long and bumpy road." Whether the coalition will hold together, he says, depends partly on Britain. British Prime Minister Tony Blair was unreserved in his support for the U.S. campaign against terrorism, notes Denman. "In this he is simply following half a century of tradition." Emphasizing ties with the U.S., Denman says, "plays well electorally and gives [Britain] a sense of world leadership."

Denman writes: "But Britain is now in the European Union, whose members are pledged to develop a common foreign and security policy. If they find that Britain is not just, like them, an ally of the United States but a cheerleader for that country, unable to agree on any common position divergent from that of the United States, they will be all the more tempted to follow the plan, already aired, for the six founder members getting together to forge a more closely integrated foreign policy. That would divide European support for the United States and make a mockery of the British ambition to be a bridge between Europe and America."


An editorial in the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" on Putin's visit to Germany says that "Putin's terrorists are now our terrorists." Berlin is happy to be the center of attention in world politics, it remarks. German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder met yesterday with prominent politicians -- Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak and President Putin -- as diplomacy continues to forge an anti-terrorist alliance.

From the Russian point of view, the editorial says, it expects the West to evaluate events in Russia somewhat differently from now on. Chancellor Schroeder has already indicated a "differentiation" in his attitude to the fighting in Chechnya. The West is accepting Russia's interpretation of the war in Chechnya as a war against terrorists, says the editorial. The paper notes that as the White House builds an alliance against terrorists, the Russians persevere in Grozny.


Jacques Schuster, writing in "Die Welt," says we are experiencing revolutions on a daily basis without grasping their importance. Alliances are being reshuffled. Under the eyes of the world, Putin, serene as the sphinx, is turning into an ally in the fight against terrorism.

Schuster writes that everything has changed. The Russian president is radically shifting camps as he offers America assistance. In Germany, he gives the impression of having been a long-standing ally. "It almost seems as if Russia has been a NATO member for a long time," writes Schuster.

But of course Putin's motives are transparent, Schuster says. The West's battle against terrorism suits Russia. Putin hopes, with the assistance of the U.S., to heal the Afghan wound, which "for years has been responsible for a sneaking septic disease" in Central Asia, he says. Moreover, this permits Putin to smooth over, if not entirely eradicate, the fiasco in Chechnya. "At present, the West has other worries aside from Russian war crimes."

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