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Western Press Review: Crash Of Flight 587, WTO Meeting, U.S.-Russian Relations

Prague, 13 November 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Commentary and analysis in the Western press today examines the crash yesterday of American Airlines flight 587 in New York, the World Trade Organization meeting in Doha, Qatar, and NATO's role in fighting terrorism. Other topics include European Commission President Romano Prodi and the EU, U.S.-Russian relations, and the situation in Afghanistan as the antiterrorism campaign appears to have achieved some recent victories.


A Stratfor analysis examines the crash on 12 November of American Airlines flight 587 in the Rockaway area of Queens, New York. In light of the 11 September attacks, Stratfor questions whether yesterday's crash might have been a deliberate act or merely an accident. Stratfor writes: "Several notable differences between [the two events] may provide early clues into the cause of the crash. The fact that American Airlines Flight 587 crashed just two minutes after takeoff strongly precludes the possibility of a hijacking. Rather, it appears to be mechanical failure, a bomb or perhaps even a missile attack."

Stratfor continues: "[Eyewitnesses] suggested seeing an engine 'fall off' the wing, while others reported a fire on the wing or hearing a loud noise before the crash. These suggest mechanical troubles, [or] an explosion in or near an engine."

Stratfor goes on to note that the Federal Aviation Administration is currently claiming that the crash resulted from a mechanical failure. For now, the possibility of a follow-on terrorist attack remains mere speculation.


An editorial in "The Christian Science Monitor" considers the World Trade Organization meeting in Doha, Qatar, which began on 9 November. The editorial notes that there were fears this meeting would be disrupted by protests, as in Seattle in 1999. But it writes: "The real protests at this week's [WTO] talks [are] coming from farmers' groups, unions, and corporations. Expanding global freedom for trade [is] bound to put thousands of companies and millions of people out of work. [The] United States is defending textile workers, steel companies, and others, while its big developed-nation trading partners, the European Union and Japan, have their own feisty [industries] demanding special breaks."

But the editorial says economic progress is "inevitable." It adds: "And so should be lowering of trade barriers. The difficult and compassionate issue is how to manage the transition so that workers and firms can adjust, instead of being protected forever. But in Qatar so far, each nation's delegation appears to be defending special interests rather than doing the [trading] necessary to strike a deal that will help all nations, rich and poor."

The editorial ends by tying increasing trade with the aims of the antiterrorism campaign. It concludes that developed nations "should now expand trade to end the poverty that drives many nations and people to support terrorism against rich nations."


An editorial in the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" discusses European Commission President Romano Prodi's speech yesterday in Bruges, Belgium, in which he mapped out his vision of the EU's future and simultaneously tried to overcome growing criticism in the press and diplomatic circles as a clumsy and uncharismatic political lightweight. The paper says Prodi wants to be taken seriously as a leader taking the initiative in the strategy of the EU -- not as someone failing to come up with new ideas. But the paper says his speech -- coming one day before the commission presents its annual progress reports on the EU's 12 candidate countries -- "was only half successful."

The editorial suggests Prodi may have been too ambitious. His speech was long and "gave the impression of a filing cabinet in which he wants to pack everything under discussion." So when Prodi actually touched on the greatest impediment -- notably the veto right with which Europeans can defend their national interests -- the response fell flat.

Here and there something sparkled in Prodi's speech, the editorial says. But the picture of a European Union -- "one impeded not by an awkwardly slow commission president, but by national self-interests and the lack of engagement of the member states -- just disappeared."


In the "International Herald Tribune," Stanley Sloan of the Atlantic Community Initiative -- a think-tank dedicated to forging closer Euro-Atlantic ties -- calls for the creation of a NATO joint task force against terrorism. He writes: "A special task force would provide the organizational focus for a serious NATO contribution to the counter-terrorist campaign. It could be a reliable framework for allied involvement, built on the foundation of NATO's integrated command structure. [The] task force should [also] involve participation by representatives from the foreign and finance ministries of task force countries, to bring to bear the wide range of resources needed to wage the campaign."

Such a task force, Sloan says, "should ask all participating countries to indicate what forces and capabilities they could contribute to counter-terrorist operations." This would be a way for allies and partners to pledge real capabilities. He writes: "NATO could, in effect, serve as a clearinghouse for existing and future allied contributions to the war on terrorism."

Sloan concludes: "If the United States comes to believe that NATO serves little practical purpose in the anti-terror campaign, all the work of the past decade to make NATO relevant to contemporary security requirements will have been for naught."


In "The New York Times," correspondent Michael Gordon says there are two wars in Afghanistan: "a northern campaign that is rapidly entering its final stages, and a southern campaign that is just beginning. [Managing] the success in the north and ensuring that it supports the aims in the south," he says, "is a daunting problem." Citing the capture of northern areas including the city of Mazar-i-Sharif, Herat, Chaghcharan, and Taloqan, among others, Gordon notes the Northern Alliance and the antiterrorist coalition have made significant recent gains. (The Alliance today appears to have taken the capital Kabul as well.)

But the northern campaign is the easier one, Gordon says. Allegiances to the ruling Taliban were weakest in that area. As it moves south, the coalition is hoping that Pashtun tribes in the south will defect and join forces with the Northern Alliance. But the largely Uzbek and Tajik Northern Alliance may end up alienating the southern Pashtuns, either through their heavy-handed treatment of the southerners while occupying their cities or for ethnic reasons. This may prompt the Pashtun Afghans to rally around the also-Pashtun Taliban. Gordon writes: "Ultimately, if the strategy of winning over Pashtun warlords fails, Pentagon officials said, Washington will need to look more seriously at sending in many additional Special Forces or other ground troops."


In "Eurasia View," Taras Kuzio of the Center for Russian and East European Studies at the University of Toronto considers the challenges that may threaten the new openness in U.S.-Russian relations. For their cooperation to be successful, Kuzio says, "both countries will have to bridge deep philosophical divides." The length of the antiterrorism campaign in Afghanistan will greatly influence the relationship between the two powers as well. While both agree on the importance of deposing the Taliban, their attitudes greatly differ regarding other possible state sponsors of terrorism, such as Iraq, Iran, and Syria. Iran in particular has close ties with Russia.

In addition, he writes, Russian President Vladimir Putin's new alliance with the United States "is opposed by a powerful Eurasianist intellectual and security-policy establishment that has gained considerable ground in recent years." Suspicion of the partnership is also evident in the United States. But Kuzio writes, "Since September 11, however, Washington has been more willing to take Russian considerations into account on a variety of global issues." Russia's changing attitude toward NATO and its softening stance on possible enlargement have also smoothed relations.

Kuzio writes: "Even if bilateral philosophical differences ease, the U.S.-Russian partnership could be endangered by a variety of geopolitical factors. The most problematical area [is] the Middle East. The U.S. and Russia fundamentally differ in their approaches, with the U.S. oriented towards Israel, and Russia towards the Palestinians."


In France's "Liberation," staff writer Fabrice Rousselot considers U.S. President George W. Bush's remarks before the United Nations General Assembly. Rousselot says Bush "hammered home a strong message: that all the world must participate in the fight against [suspected terrorist] Osama bin Laden and terrorism." Rousselot says the American president was not content to simply rally the international community behind his military campaign. He also "threatened those who would not follow the United States," in saying that every regime who supports terrorists will pay the price. President Bush added that if these nations do not believe they will suffer the consequences, they are mistaken.

These strong statements, Rousselet says, were delivered at a forum that is not quite used to them. He adds that although Bush did not single out any nation in particular, the U.S. delegation did not hide the fact that this "warning" was aimed at countries such as Iran, Iraq, and Syria.

Rousselot notes that Bush then had the satisfaction of hearing Pakistan reiterate its support for the antiterrorism campaign, although President Pervez Musharraf again stated his wish that the U.S.-led air strikes remain "short and targeted." Rousselot notes that earlier, Iranian President Mohammad Khatami had been a bit more critical, emphasizing that the strikes could result in feeding feelings of intolerance and violence.

(Dora Slaba contributed to this report.)