International Papers

Middle East Stew

A rebuff to President Clinton by Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Abdallah at the funeral of King Hussein of Jordan last week was heralded in the Saudi press Thursday as evidence that the country wasn’t a pawn or a puppet of the United States. Abderrahman al-Rashed, the editor of the leading Saudi daily Asharq al-Awsat, wrote that the heir apparent’s rejection of Clinton’s attempt to get him to meet secretly with Israeli officials in Amman (“Mr. President, I think friendship has limits”)–news of which broke Wednesday in the same paper–was a cause for Saudi pride. Perhaps Clinton thought that all Arab leaders could be “bought,” or coaxed, or intimidated, he wrote. But Saudi policies could not be bought, since Riyadh was not indebted to Washington. “The friendship between the two countries is strong indeed. But there’s no reason why Saudi Arabia should abandon its commitments to the Palestinians, Syrians, and Lebanese, as well as to its own citizens, just to please the American president,” Rashed concluded.

Turki al-Hamad, another commentator in the same paper, said that the Amman incident confounded those who believed that Saudi Arabia was just another pawn on Washington’s chessboard and therefore had probably already established secret links with Israel. He wrote that the crown prince, the effective ruler of Saudi Arabia, could have met secretly with Israeli officials, as Clinton asked, and struck deals with them behind closed doors, subsequently to denounce Israel in the strongest terms, as many Arab leaders did. But he has consistently applied the principle of “transparency” and candor, believing this to be the best guarantee of sound policy. “His rejection of Clinton’s proposal is consistent with Saudi Arabia’s policy of not officially recognizing Israel until the Middle East peace process has reached a successful conclusion, at which point Riyadh will make the appropriate decision,” Hamad added. “Saudi Arabia has already said all these things. So what would have been the point of a secret meeting? That is undoubtedly what Crown Prince Abdallah had in mind when he turned down the U.S. president’s proposal.”

Al-Khaleej, a daily from the United Arab Emirates, claimed Thursday that the United States helped Turkey capture its most wanted man, the Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan, in exchange for Turkey abandoning its policy of rapprochement with Iraq. Commentator Mohammed Idriss wrote in the paper that the betrayal of Ocalan had been preceded by another betrayal–that of the Iraqi Deputy Premier Tariq Aziz. Aziz went to Ankara at the invitation of Turkey’s pro-Iraqi Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit to discuss closer economic ties and the problem of Kurdish separatism, which both countries feel is being fueled by the United States’ “mismanagement” of the Iraqi crisis.

Baghdad also saw the visit as an opportunity to persuade Turkey to withdraw logistical support for American bombing raids on Iraq and to speed up the erosion of international sanctions against it. Yet, when Aziz arrived in Ankara, President Suleyman Demirel bluntly refused to meet him, and he found himself boycotted by Turkey’s political parties. The explanation for this had to be collusion between the U.S. and Israeli intelligence services, both of them highly active in Kenya, to deliver Ocalan to the Turks.

Idriss wrote that Greece must have been put under “enormous U.S. pressure” to have agreed to be involved in Ocalan’s abduction. “And for the U.S. to be prepared to exert so much pressure on Greece on Turkey’s behalf, the price must have been worthwhile,” he added. “At this juncture in particular, what better price could there have been than sabotaging any attempt to effect an Iraqi-Turkish rapprochement?” The Pan-Arab al-Quds al-Arabi also saw the delivery of Ocalan to Turkey as its “reward” for toeing the U.S. line on Iraq. In the Gulf state of Bahrain, the daily al-Ayyam said that Ocalan’s abduction boded ill for Osama bin Laden, America’s most wanted man. He, too, had the intelligence agencies of several countries on his trail.

Without directly addressing the question of Israeli involvement in the abduction of Ocalan, the moderate Israeli paper Ha’aretz said in an editorial Friday that the affair had shown “the narrow and very dangerous line that Israel walks in its ties with Turkey.” It said there was “no doubt that the military alliance with Turkey is one of the most important Israel has ever signed with any country” and that “[t]his type of alliance inherently involves targeting common enemies, or at least fosters the expectation that an agreed-upon map of common threats and dangers be drawn up. The Kurdish question has naturally found its way onto this map of common interests.” But Israel has always had very good relations with the Kurds, who also see the Israelis as their friends. “Consequently, Israel must make a very sharp distinction between Turkey’s war with what it defines as a terrorist organization, and its ideological and cultural struggle with the Kurdish people,” the editorial concluded. “In the aftermath of the tragic incident in Berlin, this distinction must now be expressed openly and publicly in such a manner to make it clear to the Kurds that we are still their friends.”

The Italian papers, which see Turkey’s human rights record as a serious impediment to its ambition to join the European Union, reacted with outrage Friday to a photograph issued by the Turkish government showing Ocalan blindfolded and manacled in front of the Turkish flag. La Stampa, in a front-page comment, called it “a punch in the stomach,” comparing it to other sadly unforgettable photos such as those of the dead Che Guevara, the napalm-burnt little girl during the Vietnam War, and the despairing Italian Prime Minister Aldo Moro as a prisoner of the Red Brigades. The difference in this case, though, was that the photo was “propaganda material of a government which calls itself democratic, a government of our times,” the paper said.