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Western Press Review: Bush's Asia Visit, The Middle East, And The Trans-Atlantic Rift

Prague, 21 February 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Commentary in the Western press today continues to focus largely on the visit of U.S. President George W. Bush this week to Asia, the perceived emergence of a new trans-Atlantic rift, and the Middle East. Also discussed are Iranian-Azerbaijani relations and the risk of terrorism in Europe.


In a contribution to the "International Herald Tribune," Chinese affairs analyst David Shambaugh of George Washington University looks at the visit of U.S. President George W. Bush to Asia. Shambaugh says Bush is seeking to "shore up bilateral alliances with Japan and South Korea but also seeks a stable working relationship with China. Past Bush administration rhetoric about China as a 'strategic competitor' has disappeared, replaced by considerably strengthened ties in the past 10 months." Shambaugh remarks that in the wake of the 11 September attacks on the U.S., China's "constructive participation in the antiterrorism coalition has helped to accelerate and deepen exchanges."

Shambaugh goes on to say that a "functional and stable relationship between the United States and China is central to the stability, security, and economic health of the Asia-Pacific region and the world. These are now the world's two principal powers. It is in no one's interest for them to have a dysfunctional or hostile relationship." He says Bush's current visit indicates that the U.S. administration intends to deal "constructively" with China. As Shambaugh puts it, this trip "offers the two leaders [an] opportunity to re-institutionalize the bilateral relationship and thereby build a more durable framework for future ties."


In the German daily "Die Welt," Jacques Schuster examines the latest developments in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He refers to Israel as being "crippled," as he says Prime Minister Ariel Sharon seems to lack any kind of clear policy in the face of terrorist threats. "Rarely have we seen such a helpless Israel as today. The country has maneuvered itself into a blind alley. There it is -- strong and mighty, yet bound down...."

Neither the attacks on Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat nor revenge on Palestinian terrorists have been of any avail, Schuster says. Instead of the security the prime minister promised, Schuster says Israel is suffering the worst series of attacks in its history, "not to mention the tragedy being experienced by the Palestinians."

Schuster calls for a return to diplomacy, although it is far from certain who the actors should be. Government authorities on both the Israeli and Palestinian sides, the paper continues, should take heed of the people's will, since almost 50 percent of Israelis and some 70 percent of Palestinians, according to an opinion poll, seek an end to the conflict. Schuster concludes by saying that, "Surely one should respond to such a call...."


An analysis of the Middle East situation by Peter Muench in the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" describes events as developing from "terrorist attacks to war." The tit-for-tat attacks are becoming ever more violent, he says. Meanwhile, Muench says Prime Minister Sharon's attempts to marginalize Palestinian leader Arafat have not succeeded, especially since Sharon is losing international sympathy as Israeli forces concentrate ever more on attacks on Palestinian-occupied territory.

Muench suggests the violence can be stemmed by rigorously monitoring territory borders. At present, he says, Sharon is far from conceding to such a proposal, regarding it as a capitulation. But the demands for such a settlement are bound to gain momentum and "Sharon will be obliged to listen," says Muench.


Rosemary Righter of Britain's "The Times" looks at what she sees as a growing divide between U.S. and European defense capabilities. She says this undermines both NATO and the idea of a U.S.-EU military alliance.

Righter dismisses European Commissioner Chris Patten's charge that the U.S. is in "unilateralist overdrive" as being as "simplistic" as Patten accuses U.S. President Bush of being. "Nor should any sane European view the decay of NATO as a war-fighting machine as other than an unmitigated disaster." Yet, she continues, "the immense gap between America's vast technology-driven war machine, and that of all its European allies [makes] that [decay] no longer unthinkable -- not for political reasons, but because the practical feasibility of integrated allied military operations is now in question."

U.S. military strategy is undergoing a paradigm shift, which has been accelerated by the attacks of 11 September, says Righter. She says that America is now "singlemindedly bent on understanding and surmounting the vulnerability of sophisticated societies to terrorist attack. It wants and needs a global response that pools every intellectual, scientific, and military resource. The European failure to match that response militarily, or even apparently to recognize the need to try, is putting strains on NATO that cannot be overcome unless European leaders pay close attention." Even then, she says, it may not be possible for Europe to overcome its disadvantages. Righter concludes, "Europe's choice is modernization or marginalization."


An editorial in "The Daily Telegraph" looks at the threat of terrorism to Europe, and says the European continent "remains every bit as vulnerable as the United States to the possibility of terrorist attack." It adds that "many European leaders are in danger of forgetting" this. The trans-Atlantic solidarity "that was so marked after 11 September has been sadly -- and dangerously -- diminished. Instead we have had carping from the Europeans about what they see as American high-handedness in the war against terrorism. The United States, for its part, has been unable to conceal its growing impatience with Europe's apparent refusal, or perhaps inability, to understand the extent of the threat the West is confronting."

The editorial notes that "in stark contrast" to the United States, several European countries are planning to cut their military spending, "while the proposed European Rapid Reaction Force remains largely a figment of Brussels' political imagination." The paper concludes that "if America's allies are prepared to do so little to share the burden, eventually they may well become an 'optional extra' -- but it will be their fault for doing too little, not the United States' for doing too much."


In "Eurasia View," Yerevan-based journalist Haroutiun Khachatrian considers attempts by Armenia and Iran to boost bilateral relations. He says both countries "clearly hope that closer cooperation can be used as leverage to influence broader political and economic issues in the Caucasus." But he observes that their relations are developing slowly, due in large part to the conflicting interests of other regional powers.

Khachatrian says "necessity is driving the two countries together." He continues: "Iran needs a friendly Armenia to provide an alternate transportation route to Russia and Europe. Armenia [faces] continuous trade-route blockades from Azerbaijan and Turkey." But he adds that these "mutual political interests have the potential to play out unpredictably in geopolitical terms."

Khachatrian goes on to say that Armenian-Iranian cooperation in endeavors such as the construction of a long-anticipated gas pipeline "[runs] the risk of stoking the wrath of both Russia and the United States. Russia is currently the only supplier of gas [and] nuclear fuel to Armenia. Meanwhile, Washington is not eager to see any country engage in energy cooperation with Iran. The tangled web of competing resource-development projects could easily cause Armenian-Iranian initiatives to bog down," Khachatrian concludes. "Armenian-Iranian relations are now developing within the context of building competition between Russia and the United States for regional influence. This geopolitical jockeying will exert considerable influence on Yerevan's relationship with Tehran for the foreseeable future."


In France's daily "Liberation," Christophe Ayad looks at the situation in the Middle East. He says the repeated suicide attacks in Israel are bringing to light the limits of Israeli Prime Minister Sharon's strategy. Ayad says that it is becoming increasingly clear to observers both within and without Israel, that what is needed in the face of attacks is a radical new approach to the threat. He cites analyst Gideon Samet in the Israeli daily "Ha'aretz" as saying that there is an increasing demand for a new political approach, rather than the current stubborn insistence of the government and the army to choose the military option.

Ayad says that Sharon is aware that his room for maneuver is narrow. The political right calls for radical solutions and the expulsion of the Palestinians, while the left seeks a form of separation under a political solution. Meanwhile, Ayad says, everybody is waiting: Palestinian leader Arafat waits for the Sharon government to fall, former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu "awaits his hour," and Israeli Defense Minister Ben Eliezer pursues his hard-line image and watches the opinion polls. "As for Sharon," writes Ayad, "he waits for a war between the United States and Iraq, which would leave him with free hands."