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Western Press Review: Joint U.S.-Russian Security, Caspian Oil Contest, And The Middle East

Prague, 3 April 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Among the topics discussed in the Western media today are Europe's international trade initiative, creating a new U.S-Russia security framework, the contest for Caspian oil, and Ukraine's parliamentary elections. Commentary today also focuses on the Middle East, as the Israeli Army isolates Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat within his Ramallah headquarters and steps up its offensive elsewhere in the West Bank.


In Germany's "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung," columnist Gunther Nonnenmacher calls the current situation in the Middle East "a hopeless scenario." Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat remains trapped in his compound, declaring that the Palestinians will never give up their fight for an independent state, while Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon "is leading a publicly declared war" against them. With this latest West Bank offensive, Nonnenmacher says Israel "is destroying any hope that some life might be breathed back into the peace process begun in Oslo."

He writes: "Neither European appeals, nor American exhortations, nor a unanimously adopted United Nations Security Council resolution have succeeded in improving this wretched situation. Seemingly blind and deaf to their surroundings, Mr. Sharon and Mr. Arafat appear to desire one final battle. The Israeli government wants to eliminate Mr. Arafat because it does not consider him willing and able to make peace. By escalating their intifada into terrorist warfare, the Palestinians want to demonstrate [that] Sharon's methods cannot break their resistance against occupation."

Nonnenmacher says no outside intermediary is currently capable of convincing either side that peace is possible. He concludes that physical separation of the Palestinians and Israelis may be the only solution: "In the foreseeable future, the security provided by barbed wire may well be the only realistic way to stop the killing in the Middle East."


In a contribution to "The New York Times," the publisher of the online economic daily "The Globalist," Stephan Richter, says Europe is using the transatlantic tensions over steel tariffs to assert its leadership in global trade -- thus marking "a role reversal of historic proportions." Richter says the U.S. administration "[lost] sight of the global picture" by levying 30 percent steel tariffs to protect its domestic steel industry in key election states.

He says the Europeans, with EU Trade Commissioner Pascal Lamy as chief strategist, are now ready to show their retaliatory measures -- "designed with the American electoral map in mind" -- may result in lost votes in other U.S. states. But the Europeans are being sure "to play by the rules" in the steel dispute, and ensure that European retaliation is fully legitimate under World Trade Organization (WTO) rules.

But Richter says "the bottom line for Lamy and the EU is not steel -- it is nothing less than wresting the leadership of world economic regulation from the United States. American violations of WTO rules are the route by which Europeans can assert their interpretation of those rules. By playing the good global citizen, Europe aims to become the world's pacesetter. That is one goal that all 15 EU countries can agree on."


In a shared contribution to the "International Herald Tribune," former U.S. Ambassador to the Soviet Union Arthur Hartman, nuclear security analyst James Goodby, and former Russian diplomat Aleksandr Yereskovsky say that Vladimir Putin and George W. Bush should use their May summit meeting in Moscow to "move toward an entirely new framework of nuclear arms control for the post-Cold War world." The authors say the two nations "have been caught in the nuclear deterrence trap since the 1950s" and that it is time to move beyond the old strategy of mutually assured destruction.

The authors suggest that there should be a deeper reduction in the number of nuclear weapons than either side is contemplating right now, and that these cuts should be "as irreversible as technology and transparency can make them." Secondly, joint U.S.-Russian actions should be taken to counter the threat of attacks by rogue states or terrorist groups, such as cooperation on ballistic-missile defense. Finally, the authors say Russia and the U.S. "should establish a high-level U.S.-Russia strategy group," a mechanism "to steer the two countries generally in the same direction." They suggest the lack "of a properly constituted, high-level forum for harmonizing defense decisions is one of the reasons that a more rapid transition to an alliance-like relationship has not occurred."

The authors conclude that the May summit in Moscow is the time to create a "entirely new Russian-American security relationship."


An editorial in Britain's daily "The Independent" remarks that rarely has Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat appeared to be in as much physical danger as he is now, trapped by the Israeli Army at his besieged headquarters in Ramallah. But isolating Arafat or sending him into exile solves no problems, the paper says. Rather, it could create more.

Arafat, the editorial says, is indispensable: "Palestinians have no other obvious leader in the wings. The Israelis need an individual to blame for the deadly attacks on their civilians. And the would-be peace-brokers of the United States and Europe need two sides to talk to if their increasingly flailing efforts are to have the remotest chance of getting off the ground."

The paper suggests that Israel's goal of halting the suicide attacks on its civilians is not being served by the latest offensive. It adds that should Arafat be killed "or the Israeli military operation continue past the unstated boundaries or deadline, the action will be justly condemned as nothing more than gratuitous violence."

The paper writes: "Arafat is the only interlocutor with the requisite status on the Palestinian side. It is unrealistic to hope that a moderate with broad popular support is just waiting to replace him. His death, or removal, would presage at best a confusion of power, at worst a takeover of the Palestinian Authority by the extremists of Hamas -- with repercussions that Israel, and the region as a whole, should fear."


In "The New York Times," columnist Thomas Friedman says the "central dilemma" in the Mideast conflict is that, while Israel must leave the West Bank and Gaza, "the Palestinians cannot, at this moment, be trusted to run those territories on their own, without making them a base of future operations against Israel." He suggests an outside power must come in to secure the area, such as U.S. forces or NATO.

Friedman says Israeli Prime Minister Sharon's current offensive "will succeed only if it is designed to make the Israeli-occupied territories safe for Israel to leave as soon as possible. Israel's goal must be a withdrawal from these areas captured in the 1967 war; otherwise it will never know a day's peace, and it will undermine every legitimate U.S. effort to fight terrorism around the globe."

He says U.S. President George W. Bush "has rightly condemned Palestinian suicide bombing" but is not making clear that Israel must have "a real plan for getting out of the territories." He also calls on Arab leaders to have the "moral courage" to decry the "corrupt and inept Palestinian leadership [and] the depravity of suicide bombers in the name of Islam."

Friedman goes on to criticize "American Jewish leaders, fundamentalist Christians and neo-conservatives" for equating calling for a halt to Israeli settlements with being anti-Israel. This view "has helped prolong a colonial Israeli occupation that now threatens the entire Zionist enterprise," he writes.


An editorial in "The Irish Times" today says international involvement is urgently needed in the Middle East. Otherwise, it says, the conflict "could spill over into a much more serious regional confrontation with consequences for world politics and the world economy. Unfortunately, the United States, which has the most capacity to influence events, has chosen [to] blame the Palestinian leadership for the violence and to accept [Prime Minister] Sharon's diagnosis of the problem as one of terrorism alone." It says U.S. President Bush is resisting "pressure for deeper involvement until the present Israeli military operation against Palestinian targets has run its course."

But the paper says this is "a short-sighted and wrong-headed approach, which reflects an uncritical attitude toward Israeli policies rather than U.S. interests and values in the region." In Europe, it notes, "there is widespread support for the withdrawal of Israeli troops from Palestinian towns and cities and an end to the humiliating treatment" of Yasser Arafat, whom the paper calls "the only possible interlocutor for a renewed peace process with Israel." But as always, it says, "the lack of European diplomatic and political capacity to affect events [in the region] looms large; it now seems set to influence a strengthened EU foreign policy capacity in such a vitally important area."


A "Los Angeles Times" editorial observes that, "Israeli tank assaults and the arrests of Palestinians have not stopped suicide bombers. Suicide bombers have not stopped the fusillades from Israeli tanks. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's vague pronouncements [do] not constitute a strategy. And Arafat's professed embrace of martyrdom while watching the young bombers die and kill is even less of a plan."

While the paper says Arafat "won't be able to stop every suicide bomber, [a] tough statement in Arabic to all Palestinians to put down their weapons could give pause" to some extremists. The Palestinian leader "should speak out now," it writes. Meanwhile, the editorial says, Israel continues to prepare for the violent oppression of the Palestinian people, "few of whom have taken to bombing even though they have spent their lives watching the promise of an independent state continually deferred."

The paper says the chaos in the region "has turned moderates in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza into extremists." And some of the Palestinian bombers, it says, "want the cycle of violence to continue. When peace talks appear about to bear fruit, they attack. But here's the tragic conundrum that Sharon seems unable to recognize: Despite Israel's aggressive response to the slaughter, [Palestinian] terrorists continue to kill civilians daily. Calling off talks because of suicide bombings gives the terrorists a veto over peace."


An editorial in the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" today calls the relationship between Afghanistan and Pakistan "a newly discovered brotherhood." This assessment was prompted by Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf's first trip to Afghanistan since he took power more than two years ago, for talks with interim Afghan leader Hamid Karzai. Now the two statesmen seem to be "competing to bestow each other with compliments," while in the past relations have been extremely strained, says the paper.

The decline of the Pakistan-supported Taliban has placed relations between the two countries on quite a different footing. In the past, Islamabad pinned its hopes on the extreme fundamentalist Taliban to further its own interests. Afghanistan was regarded as a safe backdrop in the face of the ongoing conflict with India. Pakistan considered itself best served by a puppet government in Kabul.

But all this is a thing of the past, says the commentary. It is now up to President Musharraf to promote mutual interests with his neighbor, and he has signaled as much. However, the paper expresses lingering doubts:Iit is questionable whether Musharraf has the support of Pakistan's powerful secret police, which has helped the Taliban financially and otherwise time and again.


Another commentary in the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung," this one by Thomas Urban, looks at the outcome of the parliamentary elections on 31 March in Ukraine. Basically, he says, the results were "sensational" -- for despite some irregularities, the final count showed that former Prime Minister Viktor Yushchenko's bloc -- Our Ukraine -- received 23.57 of the vote.

Urban sees the results as a defeat for Russia. The outcome of the election shows that the majority of the population has no ambition to return to a close alliance with Moscow. The Communists, which so far have had the strongest representation in parliament, are now "the big losers," he says. Most importantly, Urban writes, in spite of the dire poverty in the country and the vast social problems resulting from the collapse of the planned economy, people have "not given up the hope for democracy." Furthermore, he remarks, it is clear that it was not as easy to manipulate the voters as President Leonid Kuchma anticipated.

Urban says there are two possibilities for the future: Either Kuchma exerts increasing pressure on the media to influence public opinion or he embraces the program of democratizing society, which he launched some years ago and then halted. Urban says the EU should lend its assistance so that Ukraine's democratization does not fall by the wayside as it has in Russia.


In the international edition of the U.S.-based magazine "Newsweek," Owen Matthews looks at the contest for control over oil reserves in the Caspian Basin. He says that after years of "inconclusive wrangling" over the region, the contest "is starting to yield clear national and corporate winners." He says that, simply put, the Caspian dispute is about who controls the oil reserves and the pipelines that carry the oil to global markets.

The U.S. may now celebrate a strategic victory, says Matthews, as it is "close to [ending] the old Russian monopoly on Caspian export pipelines." He notes that the U.S. has promoted building a pipeline from the Caspian in Baku, Azerbaijan, through Georgia to the Turkish port of Ceyhan. Construction on this project is due to begin in June. And Russia "appears to have beaten a tactical retreat," Matthews says. "Its own oilfields are booming, but there's no question its influence over neighbors is weakening." Russian President Vladimir Putin has appeared to accept Western influence in the region as "inevitable," particularly since 11 September.

The United States is now "stationing forces in the region for the first time, sending troops to Uzbekistan and military advisers to Georgia to fight the war on terror." But Matthews says "it's lost on no one in the Caspian that Georgia, in particular, is more central to oil routes than to the hunt for Osama bin Laden."

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