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Western Press Review: Powell's Mideast Arrival, Establishing The World Court, And German-Russian Relations

Prague, 11 April 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Analysis and commentary in the Western press today discusses the hopes for peace pinned on U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell's arrival in the Mideast, German-Russian relations, the creation of the International Criminal Court, seeking the truth about the massacre of Bosnian Muslims at Srebrenica, and media bias in reporting on the Middle East.


In "The Washington Post," staff writer Mark Leibovich discusses the nuances and challenges of diplomacy, as U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell arrives in the Middle East in an attempt to broker a cease-fire.

"How do you mediate hatred?" Leibovich asks. He cites Ned Walker of the Mideast bureau of the U.S. State Department as saying that there is often "a certain amount of playacting" involved in diplomatic exchanges. A familiar diplomatic dance, says Walker, can be called the "That's it, I'm leaving" routine. Envoys will actually have their suitcases packed and ready to go -- and pleading and pressure from the other side is sure to follow.

Leibovich goes on to cite a former negotiator from the administration of former U.S. President Bill Clinton as saying that Middle Eastern leaders have a tendency to speak in ultimatums. Leibovich says both sides "are adept at couching their ultimatums in the context of their own political vulnerability at home. 'If I agree to that, I've signed my death sentence' is a common refrain, particularly by [Palestinian leader Yasser] Arafat."

Observers seem to agree that Powell has his work cut out for him. Leibovich says those who have dealt with both Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon describe "stubborn and maddening negotiators who, when it comes to each other, are careful to avoid handshakes and eye contact, and who have a knack for saying precisely the things that most annoy the other."


An editorial in "The Washington Times" looks at the creation of the International Criminal Court, widely expected to be ratified by the requisite 60 nations today. But the paper says, like other international entities, this court's ambitions to establish a global jurisdiction will be hindered by bureaucratic inefficiency and conflicts among member nations.

And this is a danger, it writes, "because a court that can only deliver selective justice could weaken, rather than fortify, the administration of law around the world." The paper says the court's framework makes it likely that it will only investigate crimes when it has been requested to do so by the UN Security Council -- and it will not deal with crimes of "aggression" or terrorism, as these are considered too difficult to define. But the editorial says if the court won't take on these matters, the ICC "can hardly have much global relevance. If a handicapped international court is upheld as an ideal, attitudes toward law will become apathetic and cynical."

"The Washington Times" suggests the only way to work for justice is to "help nations bolster the rule of law in their countries." Justice, the paper says, "will only be built country by country."


An editorial in the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" looks at investigations into the massacre at Srebrenica, when the Bosnian Serb army recaptured the town in 1995 and allegedly took part in the execution of up to 7,000 Muslim men and boys. Dutch UN peacekeepers were the only Western observers present.

The paper says a report released yesterday by the Netherlands Institute of War Documentation should establish the responsibility of the UN and the Dutch peacekeepers for not preventing the massacre, and should also serve as a lesson for the future. When the international community gets involved in a strongly emotional conflict by sending a peacekeeping force to mitigate violence and prevent bloodshed, then they should ensure that their mandate is appropriate to the severity of the situation.

"Half-hearted good will with a vague sense of purpose, a lack of the necessary room for maneuver [and] insufficient training results in the international community being blamed for massacres," it writes. The lesson to learn, says the commentary, is for future missions to be guided by strict structures and rules. The force should receive proper training and not have to rely on improvisation, it says.


An editorial in Britain's "The Guardian" says U.S. Secretary of State Powell is facing a daunting challenge as he attempts to broker peace in the Middle East. It adds that his task has been made even more difficult by "the Bush administration's prior negligence, its partiality, and deeply etched Arab doubts about its fitness to mediate. He [also] faces booby-traps in the form of continuing suicide bombings, Israel's ongoing West Bank defiance [and] opportunistic attempts by Hezbollah to widen the conflict."

But the paper says agreement may be forming on pursuing "a declaratory approach, delineating the fundamentals of a final settlement. It incorporates the Taba parameters, the Saudi peace plan, and existing UN resolutions. It involves an international monitoring force and, for example, the mutual shedding of divisive illusions about a 'Greater Israel' and an absolute right of return."

"The Guardian" goes on to say Powell must realize both Sharon and Arafat are to blame for the current crisis, that they both "comprise fatal obstacles to peace." Once the anger subsides, Palestinians and Israelis alike "must open their eyes to a future free of these two tired, tawdry repositories of age-old violence, duplicity, and hate." Alternative negotiators are urgently needed, the paper says.


In a contribution to "The Wall Street Journal Europe," the editor of the weekly "Jerusalem Report," David Horovitz, says the media coverage of the Mideast crisis has been portraying a skewed version of events. "Almost all of the 24-hour news networks, and plenty of the traditional TV news channels, have been guilty throughout this 18-month intifada of providing coverage that, through the absence of context, distorts the awful reality of what is unfolding here."

He says the ongoing siege of Arafat in Ramallah "is reported as though it reflects Israeli aggression against an unfairly maligned would-be peacemaker. Little prominence is given to Arafat's daily exhortations for 'a million martyrs' -- the term now employed as a euphemism for suicide bombers -- to give their lives in the battle for Jerusalem."

Horovitz goes on to list several examples in which journalists were prevented from covering incidents in the region. He also notes that the October 2000 murder of two Israeli reservists by a Palestinian mob was not covered initially by CNN or any major networks, but only by an Italian television crew, who then fled the country.

"The critical consequence of all this unprofessional coverage is, of course, its impact on international public opinion and policymaking." He says "fair-minded people are reaching skewed judgments and taking unwarranted positions because of the imbalance in what they see and hear."


An editorial in "The Wall Street Journal Europe" discusses criticisms that the Israeli army is not allowing journalists access to certain areas, prompting allegations of censorship. It says shooting at journalists covering a war zone "is about the worst public-relations move" a nation can make. It adds, "Israel is now finding this out, even when its soldiers use only rubber bullets or aim at the ground in front of journalists."

The situation is difficult for both the journalists covering events and the Israeli army, says the editorial. "Never do the contrasting interests of government and journalists clash more than during war." But it adds that "Israel, unsurprisingly, wants to minimize the dangers to its own soldiers and war effort and has thus declared certain zones closed to journalists. That's a long-standing practice of states engaged in warfare." The paper says journalists "don't always do what governments order them to do -- and society at large may often benefit from their insouciance -- but they know that when they don't follow orders they take certain risks."


German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and President Vladimir Putin of Russia ended a two-day summit in the eastern German city of Weimar yesterday by resolving a long-standing dispute over Soviet debt to the German government. Commenting on the success of this meeting, the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" says the statesmen were faced with a complicated problem but emerged with clear results: Putin was successful in negotiating a deal that Russia must only pay back 500 million euros to Germany.

Measured by the nominal debt of 6.4 billion transferable rubles (transferable rubles were the monetary unit of Comecon, the former trade organization of communist countries) the agreed sum is small and largely symbolic. But the commentary adds that the sum could have been a little more, considering Germany's generous offer to support Russia in gaining Western credit. All in all, the commentary says, from Putin's point of view the trip was worthwhile, although it did not significantly alter German-Russian relations.


In France's daily "Liberation," Thomas Hofnung discusses a Yugoslav bill, currently undergoing a second day of debate in parliament, to allow extraditions to the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia at The Hague. Extraditions of Yugoslav citizens were previously considered unconstitutional. Hofnung says the "conscientiously constitutionalist" Yugoslav president, Vojislav Kostunica, has always justified his refusal to cooperate with The Hague by alleging there was no legal framework for such action. But Hofnung says now, the legal framework is there. The bill on cooperation with the international court passed Yugoslavia's upper house of parliament yesterday, and is expected to pass in the lower house today.

Hofnung suggests the decision to cooperate with the tribunal was made under pressure from the United States, which threatened to withhold $40 million in aid to the country unless it cooperated with the court. He says the Yugoslav government now considers itself to have fulfilled its obligation to cooperate, although it has placed several limitations on the bill: The international court can only act within the country provided it does not threaten Yugoslavia's sovereign power or its national security interests. In addition, he says, the text states that the international court's indictments of Yugoslav citizens will be "handled" by national courts.

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