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Western Press Review: Renewed Tensions In Caucasus, EU And Shanghai Summits

Prague, 19 October 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Western press commentary and analysis today examines renewed tensions in the Caucasus, the EU summit that began today in Ghent, Belgium, and U.S.-China relations. Other topics addressed include the role of Arab states in the coalition against terror and efforts to stabilize Afghanistan.


An article in this week's "The Economist" says that the military campaign in Afghanistan should not blind the West to trouble brewing in the Caucasus. The magazine notes there are growing fears in Georgia that "Russia may use its pragmatic new friendship with America [as] a cover" for meddling in Georgian affairs. "The Economist" writes: "Those fears have been stoked by furious verbal attacks on Georgia in the Russian media. [Georgian] President Edward Shevardnadze's government is accused of sheltering Chechen rebels in a region of northern Georgia adjacent to Chechnya." The independent Abkhazia region of Georgia, for its part, seems to be fending off renewed Georgian interest in recapturing the region. Abkhaz authorities report battling invading Chechen and Georgian fighters.

The weekly says that, "It is all too easy to imagine a scenario in which Russians, Georgians and Chechens are drawn into an escalating crisis that could well infect half a dozen more of the mini-states in the northern Caucasus, which are united by the Muslim faith but are sharply divided by language and ethnicity."

"The message to all sides should be that such conflicts can be settled only on the basis of international law: that includes respect for territorial integrity, human rights and the right of refugees to return home. Russia and its neighbors need to be reminded that a better relationship with the West still depends on it."


In the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung," columnist Berthold Kohler says that an unintended effects of the 11 September attacks was the fostering of European unification. He writes: "For a Europe that had largely forgotten, in the course of decades of peace and abundance, why it wanted to unite, [it] was reminded by the terrorist attack against America that peace and prosperity are fragile commodities. Like any community, the European Union pulls together when its most valuable assets are in jeopardy. So the Union's leaders have now called for closer internal cooperation and a more outwardly united front..." Kohler says that this renewed commitment to unification is a result of the "realization that individual countries are unable to effectively protect themselves against dangers like transnational terrorism. Europeans have known for a long time that it is only together that they can achieve the critical power mass necessary to exert political influence beyond the continent."


A "Financial Times" editorial discusses the prospects of the EU summit that began today in Ghent, Belgium. The paper says the main challenge will be to "develop a comprehensive response to the Afghanistan crisis and its impact on the world economy." The collective response to the economic crisis lacks a "sense of urgency," it says. Growth in the euro-zone is slowing, and the European Central Bank "has been too slow to react to rapidly changing conditions in the eurozone this year." The paper predicts: "An interest rate cut is probably not far away." In addition, says the paper, "EU leaders should not avoid their wider responsibilities. The structural agenda -- education, pension reform, training and market liberalization -- is as pressing as ever. Having set lofty goals, [the] EU must focus on execution. The Ghent summit offers a chance for EU governments to regroup. Crises offer opportunities as well as threats. Above all, they demand leadership."


An editorial in "The Washington Post" says that the United States could make too many concessions in its efforts to secure the support of China in the war against terrorism. Although China's support in Central Asia is important, says the newspaper, the U.S. may be going too far in allowing the issue of terrorism to dominate a relationship that has other strategic interests. The paper writes that Chinese President Jiang Zemin "has supported the U.S. campaign against terrorism and even the bombing in Afghanistan -- the first time China has supported a U.S. military action since the end of the Cold War. In return, China -- like Russia -- expects new understanding for its brutal repression of a Muslim minority, the Uyghurs, on the grounds that it is also counter-terrorism. And, [again] as with Russia, the Bush administration appears ready to make important concessions" such as waiving sanctions on the sale to China of U.S. military equipment. The paper warns that any association with China's repression of Uyghur Muslims could "do serious and unnecessary damage to the Bush administration's larger political struggle for Muslim support against radical Islam. The Uyghurs [overwhelmingly] practice a moderate form of Islam." The paper concludes that U.S. President Bush "can best serve the battle against Islamic extremists by making clear that he will not support the persecution of Muslims, in China or anywhere else."


Andreas Oldag, writing in the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung," says the European Union is likely to downplay economic problems at its forthcoming summit in an attempt to paint a rosy picture. He writes: "The word 'recession' is taboo in the EU. 'What is not permitted cannot be,' goes the motto."

Oldag says politicians are clinging to the hope that the terrorist attack on the U.S. will not have negative economic repercussions on the European economy. But he writes: "This is wishful thinking. The economy is on the brink of a recession, exports are failing, businesses are cutting jobs. Consumers are holding back. Insecurity looms large."

Oldag suggests that EU members should now strive for stronger coordination on the economy and in their financial policies. The EU must search for ways to enhance growth and create employment opportunities. But expensive boom programs are not the answer, he says. Instead, economic reforms should be introduced -- there is still a shortage of flexible labor markets; social security systems are no longer affordable. These are contentious problems that must be tackled, says Oldag.


In the "International Herald Tribune," columnist Flora Lewis says that in its current campaign in Afghanistan, Washington has wisely understood, "as it did not in the 1980s," that a lucid plan for what comes after the battle is absolutely necessary. She notes that both U.S. and Pakistani officials appear to be in general agreement that a "broad-based, multi-ethnic government" has the best chance of success.

Lewis says this means "putting together a coalition representing all the major ethnic groups to replace the Taliban regime before the [Northern Alliance] rebels, who are predominantly of Tajik and Uzbek origin, can take over the capital. An attempt must be made to find some respected Taliban defectors, who could be considered moderates, to take part."

She suggests that when the battle is over there may still be Taliban admirers among the Afghan population. The Taliban cannot be eradicated, she says, but they can be integrated and the regime itself toppled.

Lewis says that this future for Afghanistan also means "Pakistan must renounce its long-standing determination to make sure that Afghanistan is a protectorate and provides strategic depth against India. It must stop interfering," she writes. "In return, Afghanistan will have to proclaim permanent neutrality."

Lewis concludes that all this "will take not only a lot of foreign aid for reconstruction and development after 20 years of bitter war, but also guidance -- probably, in effect, a United Nations protectorate to ensure neutrality in organizing an administration."


A "Stratfor" commentary [] looks at the precarious position many Muslim governments are finding themselves in regarding their stance on the U.S.-led war against terrorism. "Stratfor" says that "siding with Washington, even by default, will become more politically dangerous for these governments" in the future. They cannot appear supportive of U.S. attacks on another Muslim country. Muslim nations "must now balance cooperation with the United States against a surge in radical Islamic opposition."

"Stratfor" writes: "Islamic radical groups have been trying to overthrow their respective regimes since the 1930s." The military campaign in Afghanistan "threatens to embolden these fringe groups, expand their support base and give them an opportunity to revive popular opposition to their respective governments."

On the other hand, "Any Muslim government that condemns the U.S. action risks its own relationship with Washington by appearing to side with the perpetrators of the September 11 attacks against the United States."

"Stratfor" concludes that, "Faced with two equally bleak options, most Muslim nations will do nothing decisive in the short term. Beyond tightening security at home and criticizing the impact on civilians, nations such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia will sit tight and wait for the chips to fall."


In France's "Liberation," columnist Eric Dupin considers the recent spate of suspected anthrax-laced letters received at various locations in the United States, and now in Kenya. Worries over anthrax are not in proportion to the realities of the threat, he says. But this new form of what he calls "psychological warfare" is actually quite effective. The alerts have been overwhelmingly false alarms, Dupin notes. Anthrax, he says, is nothing like a real biological weapon. The "dry statistical reality [is that] to date, only a single American has died as a consequence of the disease."

"But the panic spreads like a powder trail," writes Dupin. However, it would be unfair to blame the media, the first recipients of the laced letters, for its spread. Most of them took great care in emphasizing that anthrax is not easy to catch nor contagious. The paranoia that spread across the U.S., he says, is a demonstration of the efficiency of terrorism.

"It is less a question of killing than of frightening," he writes. "Ultimately, it is not even necessary to send a true poison to produce the expected effect, if the victim is chosen well."

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