As Ehud Barak met Tony Blair in London Wednesday on his way back to Israel from Washington, Middle East peace hopes sprang afresh in the European press. “The sky brightens,” declared the Guardian of London over an editorial saying that “after the negativity of Binyamin Netanyahu, Barak is a confidence-building measure all by himself.” It said peace, if it comes, will be “a peace of the pragmatists” with “no outright winners–but, just possibly, a collective victory.” The Independent of London proposed that European troops–including British forces–patrol the new peace lines if the Golan Heights are returned by Israel to Syria.
Le Monde of Paris said that Barak’s “calm realism”–as shown in his admission that the Palestinians already have a de facto state–is a good omen for the future. Describing Barak as a man in a hurry, under pressure from the United States to produce results, the paper pointed out that “nothing would delight Mr. Clinton more than a beautiful ending to his second term with a diplomatic success in this part of the world where he has invested so much.” The Times of London was rather less cheerful. “The outlook is too complicated to permit of excessive expectations,” it said. For example, an entente with Syria would make Barak’s life more difficult elsewhere. “The paradox of the Arab-Israeli dispute is that it has often served as a distraction from several inter-Arab differences of scarcely less intensity,” it said.
In Israel, Ha’aretz supported Barak’s plan to speed up the peace negotiations. “Fifteen more months are more than enough,” it said in an editorial. “The disputed points have been debated to death, the conditions for compromise are known, and many of them have already been agreed upon. … Since the inception of the peace process, no peace-seeking prime minister has had such a rare opportunity to end the Arab-Israeli conflict. The combination of a solid mandate at home with ripe regional conditions, and now also the renewed and energetic support of senior American and international leaders, creates a diplomatic and security base that must not be wasted.” Elsewhere, Ha’aretz reported mixed reactions in Israel to Syria’s reported turnaround on terrorism. It said there was optimism among Israeli diplomats, who hadn’t expected President Hafez Assad to make such a pro-Israel gesture before the Golan Heights were returned to Syria, but skepticism among others who saw it as a psychological tactic to soften up Israeli public opinion into accepting territorial concessions.
Two themes preoccupying the Arab press Tuesday were America’s air raid on southern Iraq Sunday, in which 14 Iraqi civilians reportedly died, and Turkey’s recent airstrike on Kurdish rebel bases close to its border with Iran. The London-based daily al-’Arab deplored the lack of Arab response to the U.S. action, which it said was an indication of the utter subservience of Arab rulers to the United States. “If the American air raids that killed and injured tens of people near Najaf cannot arouse the Arab conscience from its ten-year slumber, it would be best to consider that conscience dead,” the paper said. Al-Khaleej, a United Arab Emirates daily, said the Turkish attack, which Iran claimed was within its territory, “underlines the increasingly aggressive and militaristic attitude Ankara has adopted toward its neighbors since it forged its American-sponsored strategic alliance with Israel.” The Turkish daily Hurriyet said Iran fabricated the incident to divert attention from its student unrest.
In Italy, La Repubblica of Rome ran an interview Wednesday with Manouchehr Mohammadi, president of the Iranian national students’ association, who said that although the students’ revolt was “bloodily repressed in the name of Islam and of so-called national interests which were really only those of a corrupt clergy,” the days of the Islamic Republic of Iran were numbered. Mohammadi also disowned Iranian President Mohammed Khatami, whom the students originally supported, saying he listened less and less to the people who voted him in and was now only concerned with hanging on to power. “He no longer represents his electors of two years ago and therefore ought to resign,” Mohammadi said.
Corriere della Sera of Milan reported a hardening of the Italian government’s line toward illegal immigrants from Kosovo, now that the war is over. It said recent immigrants are mainly gypsies fleeing persecution by the Albanian Kosovars, who claim they collaborated with the Serbian regime (541 gypsies landed in Apulia Tuesday). They will be expelled from Italy, the paper said, because the government’s guarantees of food and lodging for Kosovo refugees were conditional upon there being a war in the province.
China is keeping up its pressure on Taiwan, with the official China Daily reporting Wednesday that the Central Committee of the Communist Party once again strongly condemned Taiwan’s abandonment of the “one China” policy. The paper also had foreign ministry spokeswoman Zhang Qiyue vaguely hinting at the possibility of military action by saying that the People’s Liberation Army “shoulders the sacred mission of safeguarding national sovereignty and territorial integrity.” In Hong Kong Tuesday, the Beijing-backed newspaper Wen Wei Po reported troop movements in Chinese provinces facing Taiwan, but this was later denied by Chinese military authorities.
In Australia, the Sydney Morning Herald reported a little victory for Beijing–a decision by the new prime minister of Papua New Guinea to withdraw diplomatic recognition from Taiwan. In Hong Kong, the South China Morning Post reported that the Chinese Communist Party has decided to speed up privatization of the textile, electrical, electronic, and construction industries by giving up majority control of them. “The state–through various holding companies–holds 60 to 70 per cent of shares in the bulk of mainland listed companies, making it hard for minority shareholders to ease out ineffective managers and enforce strict corporate governance,” the paper said. In Russia, where the government has announced plans to cut spending on social welfare programs, which are largely notional anyway, Segodnya published an upbeat interview with First Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Khristenko predicting that the country will get its promised loans from the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank “if nothing political happens again.”
On the Kennedy front, the Times of London’s New York columnist, Joanna Coles, wrote Wednesday that Americans are surprisingly dry-eyed about the tragedy. “The real mystery of John F. Kennedy Jr’s death is why it hasn’t unleashed the national hysteria that greeted Princess Diana’s fatal car crash two years ago. Notwithstanding cable TV’s frenetic electronic vigil, with station editors clearly hoping for a Di-like bounty of extra viewers, the attempts by a series of anchors to launch a national wave of emotion has failed. Not even CNN’s Christiane Amanpour sobbing on air (she once roomed with him) was able to shake the nation’s uncharacteristic stoicism.”