Accessibility links

Breaking News

Western Press Review: Balkan Instability, Sino-U.S. Relations, And The Mideast

Prague, 22 February 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Commentary in the Western media today looks at persistent instability in the Balkans, the perceived transatlantic rift, and coming to terms with Communism's role in history. Other issues include U.S. relations with China in the wake of U.S. President George W. Bush's visit to Beijing this week, and the chances for peace in the Middle East. Several commentaries today also eulogize "The Wall Street Journal" reporter Daniel Pearl, who was confirmed dead yesterday after being kidnapped in January in Karachi, Pakistan.


In the 1 March issue of "Jane's Intelligence Review," Tim Ripley of the Lancaster University Centre for Defence and International Security Studies discusses ongoing instability in the Balkans. He says unresolved conflicts in the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia could flare up at any time, and that there is no sign Slav or Albanian nationalists will accept Western appeals to honor peace agreements. Ripley says 2001's conflict between the Macedonian government and ethnic Albanian insurgents was a reminder that "Albanian nationalist aspirations continue to collide with both Serbian and Macedonian nationalism." He notes that while the NATO-led disarmament of the Albanian rebels and the deployment of international monitors has "damped down the shooting war," many key reforms that would give ethnic Albanians greater rights in the country have yet to be passed by the Macedonian parliament. In addition, Ripley says, hard-liners remain "implacably opposed to a peace deal."

Ripley cites the future of the UN-administered province of Kosova as another unresolved issue, as the majority Albanian population still insists on independence from Belgrade. The ambiguous legal status of the province -- which places it under UN administration and NATO protection while at the same time affirming Belgrade's ultimate sovereignty over it -- remains a problem. Ripley writes: "Finding a way to reconcile these two diametrically opposed positions, or at least to allow the two entities to co-exist, is crucial to the future of Kosovo and the region."


In Britain's daily "The Independent," commentator Rupert Cornwell discusses the perceptions of a growing divide between Europe and the U.S. Cornwell says "the fear and resentment aroused by America's perceived unilateralism are felt everywhere -- and nowhere more than Europe." He adds that the "simple and deeply disturbing fact is that almost never have the U.S. and its closest allies seen the world in such profoundly differing ways."

Cornwell says three factors differentiate today's transatlantic differences over those the allies have had in the past. First, the unprecedented attacks of 11 September have made the U.S. less receptive to appeals from its allies and more willing to act foremost in its own interests. Second, in past decades, Europe and the U.S. were bound by a common threat that was clear and defined, "an enemy you could see on the map." But Cornwell says the most alarming difference is "the sheer and ever-growing military disparity between America and the rest of the world." Cornwell says the U.S. no longer needs NATO, the "historic capstone of the trans-Atlantic alliance."

The alliance, he says, will "doubtless survive and acquire new members, [but] the division of labor will be very different. The U.S. will do the fighting, while a select few, led by Britain, will conduct robust peacekeeping." Cornwell says other alliance members will have to be content with a much-reduced role.


In the "International Herald Tribune," Editor David Ignatius also weighs in on the U.S.-EU divide, in light of a recent discussion between Ignatius and French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine, whose characterization of George W. Bush's "axis of evil" speech as "simplistic" has been widely reported. European perceptions of U.S. unilateralism have also been the subject of much discussion of late, amid growing fears of a U.S.-led military operation in Iraq.

Ignatius says that what French and other European leaders might ultimately be seeking is merely more opportunities for consultation, perhaps for President Bush "to telephone the leaders of France, Germany, Britain and several leading Arab countries and level with them: If Saddam Hussein doesn't allow inspectors back into Iraq, then the United States will have to take military action. When the Europeans and Arabs protest, Bush should ask if they have a better solution for replacing him. If not, the United States will go its own way."

Europe's nightmare, Ignatius says, "is that America will take actions that vitally affect their interests -- without bothering to consider their views."


A commentary in Germany's "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" discusses German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer's talks with Czech Prime Minister Milos Zeman on 21 February. The paper says the meeting was overshadowed by the wave of criticism provoked by Zeman's recent comments comparing Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to Adolf Hitler.

The paper notes that Fischer, however, did not seem particularly concerned about the incident and swept the matter under the carpet by declaring, "it's hard to imagine that a government head of a future EU member would speak out against EU guidelines." The trouble with that idea, the paper says, is that there is a record of Zeman's statements. Nevertheless, the paper says that in the final analysis this incident will not slow EU enlargement. "There must have been a 'misunderstanding,' because what is not permitted, cannot exist," the commentary wryly concludes.


An editorial in "The New York Times" eulogizes "The Wall Street Journal" reporter Daniel Pearl, whose death was confirmed nearly a month after his kidnapping on 23 January in Karachi, Pakistan, allegedly by Islamic fundamentalists.

The paper writes: "His killing is a senseless act, shattering for his family and ultimately self-defeating for those responsible. Mr. Pearl's reportorial enterprise and personal courage were admired by his colleagues and competitors alike."

The paper says that while the identity of Pearl's killers remains unclear, "Whoever they may be, [they] have gained nothing by their unspeakable act. Their murky demands for the repatriation of Pakistanis captured in the fighting in Afghanistan went unanswered by Washington, which rightly concluded long ago that responding to the political demands of terrorists is counterproductive."

The editorial continues: "The terrible irony of Mr. Pearl's murder is that he and other independent journalists have been trying to present a detailed and informed portrait of the mind set, motives and grievances of the Islamic fundamentalists in the wake of the terrorist attacks of September 11 and the war in Afghanistan. That work will continue despite the killing, but the kidnappers have only undermined their cause by their acts."


In "The Wall Street Journal Europe," Prague-based journalist Petra Breyerova says the communist "ghosts of the past" still haunt the Czech Republic. "Long after the citizens of many other post-communist societies have let the subject drop, a debate still rages here about how or whether to exorcise those ghosts."

Two high-profile trials of secret police, or StB, officials have renewed the debate over how to confront the past. A controversy is also ongoing over whether to open communist-era secret police files that would show people the names of former police collaborators or friends and family members who may have informed on them. Breyerova says that some Czechs, particularly the young, see punishment for communist-era crimes "as a way to clean up their country's history." But others argue that such justice comes too late to have much impact, or that the real guilty will go unpunished.

But Breyerova says that "by confronting such connections and clearing people's conscience en masse -- declassifying the StB files for the public could represent a very important step. Many of the people who lived under communism are afraid to come to terms with their mistakes and hypocrisy. [The] majority of Czechs are striving to make their way into a normal world. For those still unsure whether the move forward to democracy has been a good thing, the trials of StB agents and the opening of files can help them decide."


An editorial in Britain's "Financial Times" discusses U.S. President George W. Bush's visit to Beijing this week. The paper says that Bush's trip "brought no breakthroughs on key issues. For Washington, greater Chinese cooperation in efforts to halt the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction has become the touchstone of closer relations. But China failed to reassure the U.S. that it would comply with an international accord limiting the export of missile technology to unstable regions."

The paper says that China, for its part, was similarly disappointed with Bush's stance on Taiwan, and his lack of support for the "one China" policy. Bush did, however, express his gratitude for China's support for the war on terrorism, while Chinese President Jiang Zemin promised to increase cooperation. The paper says that "the dialogue is constructive, if not exactly fruitful."

The paper says the value of the Beijing summit "lies in its clarification of the differences between the two. [The] two presidents have agreed to disagree. The question is whether they can now establish a relationship that allows them gradually to bridge their differences.

"Mr. Bush's promise that the U.S. would be a 'steady partner' for China indicates that he is willing to put that relationship on a more stable footing. But he must be prepared to make conciliatory noises to encourage Beijing to respond."


An analysis in the French daily "Le Monde" looks at Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's speech on 21 February, calling it one without concessions. The paper notes that while Sharon promised to try to prevent an escalation, he also indicated he would do everything possible to fight the so-called forces of "terrorism." Sharon also announced the creation of buffer zones, apparently seeking to increase security on Israel's borders with Palestinian territories by merely increasing their physical separation.

"Le Monde" says that international diplomacy is now on the alert. The U.S. State Department has called upon both the Israelis and Palestinians to closely examine their actions and their consequences, calling the current situation "critical."

For his part, Secretary-General Kofi Annan declared that the international community has an "essential" role to play in the resolution of the Middle East conflict. The paper says that, according to Annan, the conflict is sliding into all-out war. The secretary-general has appealed to the UN Security Council and the international community to find a peaceful and total solution, but "Le Monde" notes that he stopped short of suggesting anything more specific.

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