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Western Press Review: The Mideast Intifada, Caspian Oil, And Kosovo's President Rugova

Prague, 6 March 2002 (RFE/RL) -- The recent sharp increase in Middle East violence is the primary subject of much Western press commentary today. Daily attacks and counterattacks have plagued the region in the past week, resulting in numerous casualties on both sides. Other analyses focus on the lessons from Angola for policy in Afghanistan, the anticipated deployment of U.S. advisers to Georgia, the U.S. president's protectionist stance on steel, elections in Zimbabwe, and what to expect from newly elected Kosovar President Ibrahim Rugova.


An editorial in Britain's daily "The Independent" calls the recent Mideast violence "the bloodiest crisis since the start of the intifada almost 18 months ago." But the paper says that for now, outsiders should do nothing. "The plain fact [is] that at this precise moment both sides believe that violence is their best strategy." Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon believes "he can bomb, batter, and bulldoze cowed Palestinians back into a negotiating process. [But] Palestinian fighters detect a growing despair among ordinary Israelis at the unending carnage. And as they see Mr. Sharon's poll ratings tumble, they sense that their tactics are working."

The editorial says that what it calls "the eternal malign truth of the Middle East" is that "extremists on both sides are in unspoken collusion to ensure that any peace initiative fails." The paper adds that any moves toward a truce, "whether of American, European, or Arab origin, have tended to prompt not a decrease, but an increase in violence."

But, "The Independent" writes, "sooner or later even this cycle of violence will exhaust itself. At that point, outsiders must have plans ready on which the moderates on both sides can build. [America,] Europe, and the Arab world must concert their efforts. But the bottom line remains unchanged. Just as only Israelis and Palestinians can reach a lasting settlement, so only Israelis and Palestinians can stop the current violence."


In a commentary in "The New York Times" reprinted in today's "International Herald Tribune," columnist Nicholas Kristof says that if the U.S. "[wants] to fathom how countries like Saudi Arabia or Pakistan could possibly support terrorists, we might peek into a mirror." He says that Jonas Savimbi, the Angolan guerilla leader assassinated last month, had "murdered and tortured countless civilians over the years," in over 25 years of Angolan civil war that resulted in over 500,000 deaths. But Kristof says Savimbi "was America's warlord, not the other side's, and so the United States was blind to his brutality. [Americans] were oblivious to Savimbi's faults because the United States was locked in a Cold War rivalry in which ideology trumped all else."

Kristof suggests that as the U.S. engages in new struggles today -- this time against terrorism, rather than communism -- it is a good idea to look at "the lessons of U.S. mistakes in Angola, so that they are not repeated in countries like Afghanistan and Iraq. It is embarrassing to look back and see how the United States hailed Savimbi during the Cold War," he says. Savimbi had been considered a hero by many within U.S. administrations.

Kristof goes on to say that it is "institutional changes -- like schools, liberties, and free markets -- that are the Third World's real freedom fighters and 'authentic heroes.'"


A commentary in the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" discusses energy politics in the Caspian. It takes a look at the U.S. attitude toward Russia's opposition to permanently reducing its oil exports, in spite of OPEC pressure to do so. Gone are the days when, for geopolitical and strategic reasons, the West pressured Russia not to exploit oil and natural-gas resources in the Caspian Basin.

"Today, Washington views Russia's demands and price policies, in general, as part of a close U.S.-Russian alliance," the paper says. The U.S. no longer considers Moscow's dream of becoming an energy superpower -- capable of challenging the strategic importance of Saudi Arabia -- as an "anti-Western nightmare."

The paper says this is yet another indication of how much the U.S. alliance with its Saudi Arabian client has altered since 11 September. The paper says America wants to disentangle itself from its dependence on Persian Gulf oil in order to gain political elbow-room, and therefore it supports a new energy policy. In this attempt, the commentary concludes, "Moscow is proving helpful."


In a contribution to the "International Herald Tribune," Leonard Hausman, formerly of Harvard University's Institute for Social and Economic Policy in the Middle East, says that painful concessions must be made on both sides of the Middle East conflict. He says that the recent proposal by Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Abdullah is demanding that dreams must be replaced by reality.

"As settlements have grown in number and size since the early 1970s, powerful peace-stopping political interests have grown around the dream of a Greater Israel including the West Bank and even considerable parts of Gaza. Under the Saudi plan, 20 percent of the settlers [would] have to leave their settlements. Sharing sovereignty in Jerusalem and withdrawing from the Golan Heights will be less painful politically for the government than agreeing to abandon some settlements and the associated dream of a Greater Israel. To be accepted as a state in the Middle East, Israelis will have to abandon that dream."

As for the Palestinians, he writes, the Saudi plan "creates a wrenching moment. Palestinian leaders will have to recognize that the price of statehood includes telling the refugees the painful truth that they cannot ever live in Israel." Hausman says Prince Abdullah "is calling on parties throughout the Middle East to dispense with long-held dreams and ideologies fueled by political interests. [The prince] is saying this is the time to confront difficult choices and make compromises."


An editorial in "The Washington Times" says that U.S. President George W. Bush's decision yesterday (5 March) to place a 30 percent tariff on foreign steel entering the U.S. was evidence of him "[buckling] under pressure from the steel industry, placing political calculations above the overall well-being of the economy." Bush made the decision in order to protect U.S. steel producers from the competition they face from imports. The paper says that with this protectionist measure, America now risks alienating key allies at a critical time and faces a costly trade dispute at the World Trade Organization."

"Clearly, the administration has set a protectionist precedent that could gain unfortunate momentum. In terms of foreign policy, Mr. Bush's decision hardly seems strategic. Many of America's chief counter-terrorist allies -- such as South Korea, Russia, China, Japan, and European countries -- will be particularly affected by yesterday's decision and have already voiced bitter opposition to a rise in tariffs."

The paper cites Romano Prodi, the European Commission president, as warning that "steps" may need to be taken in response to the U.S. action. "Japan was more direct," says the paper, citing an official from the Ministry of Economic Trade and Industry as warning that Japan might ask the WTO to rule on the U.S. decision.


An analysis in "Jane's Foreign Report" looks at the anticipated deployment of 200 U.S. military advisers to Georgia. This move is ostensibly to help the Georgian government regain control over the lawless Pankisi Gorge on the border with Chechnya and to root out Islamic militants who use the region as a base for attacks. But, "Jane's" says, "there is another reason why the United States wants to stabilize Georgia." The Americans seek to build a pipeline "from the Caspian Basin oil fields in Azerbaijan to Turkey's Mediterranean terminal at Ceyhan through Georgia, sidelining Russia and Iran and extending [American] influence into the former Soviet republics in the Caucasus and Central Asia."

However, this prospect of an alliance between the United States, Turkey, Georgia, and Azerbaijan -- "to counter the growing ties between Russia and Iran and, maybe, Armenia -- is causing some consternation across the region." "Jane's" says that both Russia and Iran see recent U.S. inroads for the war on terrorism into Central Asia as "little more than a cover for American encroachment to establish political and military domination over these Muslim states to protect the Caspian oil and gas reserves and break the Central Asian states' economic dependence on Russia."


In Britain's "The Independent," columnist Mary Dejevsky looks at the prospects for free and fair elections in Zimbabwe this weekend. She notes that many observers have little faith that the voting will be democratic or truly representative of Zimbabweans' wishes.

"The main opposition leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, has been hounded and charged with treason. Gangs of government-sponsored thugs are roaming the countryside threatening his suspected supporters. Journalists have been branded as terrorists, driven into exile or gagged. And the army, having warned that it would seize power itself if President Robert Mugabe failed to regain power, has been entrusted with running the elections."

But she says that for cynical outside observers to attempt to forecast the results in advance "is to patronize and demean the voters." She says that "even when elections fall short of 'free and fair,' voters are still capable of defying the odds. [Amid] rank dishonesty, political blackmail, and nasty, targeted violence, voters can show admirable courage, resilience, and discernment."

Dejevsky continues: "So when the polling stations in Zimbabwe close on Sunday night (10 March) and the ballot boxes are sealed, resist that rush to cynicism and give the country's hard-pressed voters a chance. If repression prevails, there is time for anger. But don't write off Zimbabweans before they have voted. They may yet surprise us."


An analysis in "Le Monde" by Christophe Chatelot looks at the election of Ibrahim Rugova this week (4 March) as president of Kosovo province. After having been responsible for organizing a decade of Albanian resistance to former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, Chatelot says Rugova's detractors believe he is merely a relic of the past. Chatelot acknowledges that Rugova's presidency is limited. "The real power in Kosovo remains in the hands of the UN representative in the province, an international protectorate since June 1999 and merely endowed with 'substantial autonomy' within the Yugoslav union."

Chatelot questions whether Rugova will be content with his limited mandate, and whether he will be capable of pressing forward on the future of Kosovo, the definitive status of which has yet to be determined. The province must still grapple with questions regarding whether to content itself with "autonomy" or seek complete independence, whether to secede or remain within the Yugoslav federation. All three political parties in Kosovo share the goal of independence, says Chatelot. But the means by which to achieve it is where they diverge, and the new privileges associated with their new powers will whet their appetites, he says.


The "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" carries a profile of Kosovo's new prime minister, Bajram Rexhepi. Rexhepi, an Albanian resident of the Serbian section of Mitrovica, which is divided into the Serbian north and the Albanian south by the Ibar River, sees his mission as uniting the town. But this could also lead to "misunderstandings," says the commentary, since Rexhepi must continuously placate the Serbs while explaining that the unification of Mitrovica will lead to a final settlement of the province's status.

Rexhepi agrees with newly elected President Rugova in calling for complete independence from Yugoslavia for Kosovo, and in ending Kosovo's current status as a Yugoslav province and a UN protectorate. In his government program, Rexhepi promises to improve living conditions, to fight corruption and criminality, and to integrate the Serbian enclaves into an independent Kosovo. In Rexhepi's words, "I have no prejudices, I want to enable a normal life for everyone."

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