Russian President Boris Yeltsin flew to Istanbul Wednesday to meet with Bill Clinton at the European security summit with strong backing from his country’s press for the war in Chechnya. “Yeltsin must not listen to moralising in Istanbul,” warned a front-page editorial Tuesday in Novye Izvestia, which ran above a color photograph of bodies of alleged victims of a NATO bombing in Kosovo seven months ago. But to the Kremlin’s embarrassment, the tabloid Versia, on the same day, became the first Russian paper to print a 1995 Swiss bank statement which appears to show that Yeltsin has a joint account in Lugano with one of his key aides, Pavel Borodin. The Kremlin has denied that the president has any foreign accounts or property.
New hopes for a peace settlement in Northern Ireland dominated the British press Wednesday. “Peace within their grasp” proclaimed the Guardian’s front-page headline after David Trimble and Gerry Adams, the Unionist and republican leaders, issued separate statements committing themselves to pursuing their conflicting objectives by “exclusively peaceful and democratic” means. The Guardian said the statements transformed the political landscape and brought age-old enemies to the very brink of historic compromise.
But the Times and the Daily Telegraph both underscored the political risks that Trimble, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, is running by backing off from his party’s traditional “no guns, no government” stand–a policy of refusing to share power with Adams’ Sinn Fein Party in a devolved Northern Ireland parliament before the Irish Republican Army hands over any of its weapons. The Times said hard-line members of the Ulster Unionist Party are already plotting to oust Trimble, and the Daily Telegraph, which is fiercely supportive of the continuing union of Northern Ireland with Britain, came close to accusing him of betrayal. In an editorial Wednesday, it called his new conciliatory stand an “extraordinary gamble” and demanded he come clean about what, if anything, the IRA is secretly offering to cause him “to take this leap in the dark.”
Much of the press around the world covered the calling in of the FBI to investigate the crash of EgyptAir Flight 990 off the coast of Massachusetts in which 217 people died. “Was there a kamikaze in the cockpit?” asked Libération of Paris in a front-page banner headline. In Turin, La Stampa fronted what it claimed to be the cause of the collapse of an apartment building in the southern Italian city of Foggia which killed 62 people. The building, the paper said, had been erected on top of an artesian well–“that is, on water.” Most people in the neighborhood knew of the well, it said. “Only the city engineers didn’t know about it and have continued to deny its existence even after the collapse.”
The French papers also led with the decision by the European Commission in Brussels to take legal action against France for refusing to lift its ban on British beef. But the British press highlighted a statement by the European Union’s food safety commissioner that a Franco-British agreement to end the Mad Cow war was only “a hair’s breadth” away. In a front-page editorial, Le Figaro said the affair could be seen as just an episode in “the eternal Anglo-French conflict.” An editorial in the Independent of London said its legacy would be “that extra little suspicion of our European partners will be unfairly added to the great heap of Europhobia patiently built up by the Little Englanders in the press and in politics.”
The Israeli daily Ha’aretz claimed Wednesday that Israel and the United States now agree that Iran is the principal sponsor of terrorism in the Middle East. Writing on the eve of a speech on terrorism by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak at the Istanbul summit, commentator Aluf Benn called this an Israeli “diplomatic achievement.” He said the United States now says that its recent attempts at dialogue with Iran have “achieved nothing,” and it has promised Israel that it will not defrost its relations with a country that is using terror to try to undermine the Middle East peace process. The Jerusalem Post reported “conspicuous silence” by the Israeli defense establishment in response to a flat denial by China that it is buying an airborne radar system from Israel–a deal which the United States has been trying to stop. Yitzhak Shichor, a Hebrew University expert on Israel-China relations, told the paper that the Chinese statement was probably a result of pressure from the Clinton administration. “It’s a typical reaction,” he said. “In the 1980s we had deep ties with China, and we also had meetings with diplomats and everybody knew about it, but they flatly denied it. That’s the way it is with them.”
The South China Morning Post of Hong Kong warned Wednesday that China is already trying to erect “roadblocks” to slow the influx of goods, services, and ideas after it joins the World Trade Organization. “Opposition to WTO accession remains strong among State Council ministries and most regional administrations,” wrote Willy Wo-Lap Lam in a comment on this week’s Sino-U.S. trade agreement. He added that “basic elements in the [Communist] party orthodoxy–such as tight party and government control of major enterprises, enshrined by the Central Committee plenum in September–are unlikely to change in the foreseeable future.” In an editorial, the SCMP expressed optimism about the U.S. Congress ratifying the trade agreement. “Over time, U.S. politics gravitate towards the middle, and extreme views seldom win,” it said. “And a careful consideration of the benefits of making China a member–plus the costs of not doing so–will convince most Americans their best interests lie in opening wide the WTO door.” Le Monde of Paris welcomed the trade agreement in an editorial Wednesday but lamented the fact that “Europe, the world’s first commercial power,” had allowed the United States to do its own private deal with China. “More aggressive economic diplomacy would have allowed the European Union to defend its interests better,” it said.
In a diary in the current issue of the British weekly the Spectator, actress Joan Collins describes her first meeting with President Bill Clinton a couple of weeks ago in the Oval Office. “He grasped my hands firmly,” she writes. “He has beautiful and expressive hands, by the way, and enormous feet … I must admit I was spellbound. The man has palpable sex appeal, and is much taller and slimmer than I’d expected. He also has wonderful breath, but not from a surfeit of mints or mouthwash.”