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Western Press Review: Russian-U.S. Arms Reduction, The Mideast, And Afghanistan

Prague, 14 May 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Several Western dailies devote editorial space today to discussing the announcement that Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President George W. Bush will sign a nuclear-arms reduction agreement at their summit in Moscow next week. While this decision is generally applauded, many commentators seem to feel it did not go far enough. Other discussion focuses on the Middle East and the situation in Afghanistan, among other issues.


A "Financial Times" editorial today discusses the agreement between Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President George W. Bush to sign a nuclear arms reduction treaty at their summit in Moscow next week. The editorial applauds the decision but says the agreement should have been more ambitious in reducing nuclear arms stores. At America's insistence, both sides can now place many of the arms in storage rather than destroying them. The paper calls this arrangement "baffling in the light of the far greater danger of weapons proliferation. Surely it would be better to destroy these arms once and for all? Leaving them in existence is tempting fate," it says.

The "Financial Times" goes on to suggest that both sides could also have agreed to more drastic cuts in their arsenals, "without any real change in the strategic balance." The Cold War has been over for more than a decade, and it is hard to see "why either Washington or Moscow needs to preserve arsenals of 2,000 nuclear warheads. A figure of 200 would have given a much more positive signal," the paper remarks. Russia would have agreed to more drastic weapons cuts, it says, noting Putin had proposed a reduction to 1,500 warheads. The paper says this willingness is what indicates the Cold War is really over. Bush should have taken advantage of this opportunity and "dared to be more ambitious."


An editorial in the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" also comments on the nuclear arms reduction treaty that U.S. President George W. Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin are set to sign in Moscow. The editorial remarks that for a peaceful message, President Bush's assertion that we are defeating the legacy of the Cold War "sounded rather warlike."

The paper says this far-reaching arms reduction is a positive step, but it disagrees with U.S. President Bush in his assertion that the signing of the accord is sealing "a new era in U.S.-Russian relations." This agreement is itself "a Cold War relic," says the editorial, as such agreements follow a "balance-of-fear logic": each side will only reduce its arsenal on the condition the other side does the same. The paper remarks, "however good the intentions of arms-reduction agreements, they remain documents of mistrust."

The "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" says a true sea-change in American-Russian relations can only be established on the basis of faith. Currently, foreign ministers in Reykjavik, Iceland, are discussing increasing cooperation between NATO and Russia. This, says the commentary, "is far more important in the long run" than new treaties or agreements. In the final analysis, it says, the decisive issue is whether Putin is capable of guiding his country on a Western course in the post-Cold War era.


A contribution to the "International Herald Tribune" by David Malone of the International Peace Academy is critical of U.S. policy on the Middle East. He says Washington's attempts to seek a settlement to the conflict through multinational committee negotiations is the wrong approach. Malone suggests the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush must take the initiative and propose a definitive plan, as another international conference will merely be "a weak echo" of the 1991 Madrid negotiations. There "is still no sense of what outcome the current Bush presidency is prepared to promote assertively," he writes.

Malone takes a matter-of-fact approach in considering the possibilities for peace in the region. He observes that "[any] reasonable proposal will cause political pain in both Israel and the Arab world. It will also create animosities within the U.S. body politic." U.S. President Bush will have to make some tough choices, he says. "Much has been made in donor circles of the need to rebuild the Palestinian infrastructure, but what kind of governance do Western nations want to subsidize?"

Until a clear U.S. strategy emerges, says Malone, any conference on the Middle East will merely be an attempt to stall on the real issues. "A peace process will be created, with no peace in sight." U.S. policy in the region has been an unimpressive performance so far, he says, with the U.S. president "practicing nuance without policy."


A news analysis by staff writers Peter Slevin and Walter Pincus in "The Washington Post" says the nuclear-arms reduction treaty to be signed by Russia and the United States next week in Moscow is as significant for its political value -- which the authors call "a codification of closer relations between the White House and the Kremlin" -- as for its military implications.

U.S. President Bush agreed to draft a formal treaty on the reductions as Russia favored, instead of relying on a verbal agreement as the U.S. had first suggested. But the U.S. administration also got what it wanted: "A promise of dramatic reductions in deployed nuclear weapons without any limits on U.S. warheads taken out of service or on the rockets, submarines and long-range bombers that deliver them." Russia also gains a firm commitment from the U.S. to reduce its arsenal "at a time when the Russian government cannot afford to maintain its current nuclear arsenal."

The authors say an "improved climate and a changing economic and military equation made possible the rapid negotiations" on this issue. The two powers will reduce their nuclear arsenals of between 5,000 and 6,000 warheads by 2012, when they will each have 1,700 to 2,200 remaining. Further negotiations lie ahead, to be picked up after the treaty is signed. But Slevin and Pincus say negotiators "expect a deal can be reached."


An editorial in "The New York Times" today discusses the resolution passed on 12 May by the Likud Central Committee rejecting the establishment of a Palestinian state. The paper notes that the vote has no legal power and calls it "a showy way" for former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to challenge Israel's current Prime Minister Ariel Sharon for control of the party.

"At a time when polls consistently show that most Israelis -- including many Likud voters -- would sensibly accept a Palestinian state in exchange for peace and security, Mr. Netanyahu chose to attack Mr. Sharon from the rightist fringe. The effect of all this may be to marginalize Mr. Netanyahu and turn Mr. Sharon into more of a peacemaker."

In what the paper calls "another positive development," the leaders of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Jordan pressured Palestinian officials "to contain militancy and give American-led diplomatic efforts some chance of success." On 11 May 11, the largest demonstration for peace in the 19 months of violence took place in Tel Aviv.

"The New York Times" concludes that Netanyahu's push to the hard right may have been a miscalculation. In these times of high anxiety among the Israeli public, it says, he may think Sharon is politically vulnerable -- "but it is actually Mr. Netanyahu who seems to be out of touch."


In the daily "Eurasia View," journalist and Afghan affairs analyst Camelia Enkhetabi-Fard says there are lingering Islamic fundamentalist threats to the stability of the Afghan interim government that may be merely biding their time until they can make a comeback in the country. She says with the fall of the Taliban regime in Kabul, "many militant fighters seem to have simply moved to Pakistan. Peshawar, a border town on the Pakistani side, serves as the main artery between the two countries; for decades, people, weapons, goods, and drugs have flowed through here."

She adds that "there is reason to suspect that the concentration of radicals near Peshawar could threaten Afghanistan's interim government. Publicly, the new Afghan leaders dismiss any possible threats from these quarters in neighboring countries. But interviews with these officials left no doubt that the government in Kabul is seriously concerned about threats to their national security from across the Pakistani border."

Enkhetabi-Fard cites a Pakistani diplomat as saying the Islamic extremist groups in Afghanistan are quiet right now only due to the international troop presence. When they leave, the fundamentalists will attempt to regain power. Afghans, he added, have never liked a foreign presence in their country. Enkhetabi-Fard remarks that even if many of the Islamic extremists in Peshawar are foreign to Afghans, "they are also familiar and organized enough to threaten stability in the critical weeks before Afghanistan's Loya Jirga."


An article in France's daily "Le Monde" looks at the meeting between NATO foreign ministers and their Russian counterpart taking place in Reykjavik today to discuss the functions of the new joint Russia-NATO Council. "Le Monde" says this council, formed in the wake of the September attacks, will set up a new framework for international relations and make an unprecedented level of cooperation possible. The new forum will provide for Russia-NATO consultation in the areas of the fight against terrorism, crisis management, nonproliferation of weapons of mass destruction, arms control, search and rescue, and civil emergency plans. The dignitaries will also discuss NATO enlargement, long a source of anxiety for Russia, ahead of November's accession meeting in Prague. Modernizing NATO's military capabilities will also be a topic for debate.

Ahead of today's discussion on how the new "NATO plus Russia" council will function, "Le Monde" says "marginal" differences still remained, but hopes are high for the conclusion of an agreement in the Icelandic capital. The agreement announced yesterday between the U.S. and Russia on signing an arms-reduction treaty appeared to be a good sign, says the paper.


In an editorial in the German daily "Die Welt," Michael Stuermer says NATO's size does not equal its strength. Stuermer says the two-day talks in Reykjavik between NATO foreign ministers on setting up a NATO-Russia Council must focus on three issues: in addition to NATO's expansion to the east, an inner transformation must take place to make the organization more efficient and, above all, a strengthening of its capabilities must be a priority.

Reykjavik must solve persistent contradictions, says Stuermer: A larger NATO should also be slimmer; Russia should be part of it yet remain outside of it; and America should give guidance and, simultaneously, ask two dozen governments for their opinions. The war on terror is not going to be a sufficient guiding principle for the organization, he says. Peacekeeping, as in the Balkans, remains a major task. Yet a common defense policy for the allies must be ever-present.

Stuermer says, "NATO must not confuse size with strength." He says the real question is "'to be or not to be': either to be a hollow, nominal, and ultimately unnecessary alliance or a renewed Atlantic alliance that guarantees security, anchored in America and Europe, and including Russia as a partner -- and yet, maintaining a balance between NATO and Europe."

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