The Irish papers led Monday with rising hopes for a lasting peace in Northern Ireland. This followed a report in the Sunday Telegraph of London that the Irish Republican Army will start to get rid of its weapons “within weeks.” The paper said the IRA has invited Gen. John de Chastelain, the Canadian head of an independent arms decomissioning body, to witness a controlled explosion of some of its weaponry later this month in an attempt to meet the terms of the peace deal negotiated by former U.S. Sen. George Mitchell. This “symbolic gesture” is timed to take place before a crucial meeting in early February of the Protestant Ulster Unionist Council, which is to review progress on the IRA’s commitment to disarm. Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate and head of the province’s new Protestant-Catholic coalition government, has said he will resign if the IRA doesn’t start to give up its weapons.
The Irish Independent of Dublin quoted a source in Sinn Fein, the political party closely linked to the IRA, warning against “ill-informed and speculative stories.” But Martin McGuinness, one of Sinn Fein’s top leaders, told the paper he believes there is no way the new power-sharing government in Northern Ireland would let peace collapse over the arms question. “It is now inconceivable that the political process that we embarked on could be brought down over the issue,” McGuinness said. The Irish Times led with Trimble urging President Clinton to press Sinn Fein leaders to start IRA decomissioning. Clinton is expected to receive Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams at the White House Wednesday in a meeting regarded in London and Dublin as “of critical importance,” the paper said.
Clinton remains much in demand as a peacemaker. In an editorial Monday marking the end of the current round of Israeli-Syrian peace talks in Shepherdstown, W.V., the Israeli daily Ha’aretz said that “as the negotiations become more taxing and problematic, the involvement of the U.S. is likely to become yet more extensive.” The paper said, “A web of mutual commitment on the Israel-U.S. track has been spun. The mutual relationship features Israel’s commitment to the process and America’s obligations with regard to the forging of agreements, and as a patron and guarantor in economic and security areas.”
A report in the Sunday Times of London said that Mossad, the Israeli secret service, managed to take a urine sample from President Hafez Assad of Syria when he was in Jordan in February 1999 for the funeral of King Hussein. With the cooperation of the Jordanian secret service, a special lavatory was prepared for Assad’s exclusive use, with a urinal that led not into a drain but into a specimen jar. His urine was then taken for analysis to the Tel Hashomer medical research hospital near Tel Aviv, the paper claimed. The conclusion was that Assad is living on borrowed time. “We should do everything to reach an agreement while Assad is alive,” an aide to Israeli President Ehud Barak told the Sunday Times. “Nobody knows what will happen after Assad. There are some gloomy assessments about a possible bloodbath in Syria. Assad is a man you can trust to stand by his word.” The Sunday Telegraph reported from Jerusalem that former Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres is the favorite to succeed Ezer Weizman as president if the latter is forced to resign over a financial controversy.
Setbacks in the Chechen war were widely seen as weakening Vladimir Putin’s position as the front-running candidate for the Russian presidency. The Sunday Telegraph reported from Moscow that he is struggling to reassert his authority “as his military campaign in Chechnya threatened to turn from a vote-winner into an electoral liability.” The paper said, “For Mr Putin, in the absence of any rivals at home, the Chechens are now his most serious opposition in the campaign ahead.” The Sunday Telegraph also reported that the terrorist responsible for masterminding the Lebanon hostage crisis and killing scores of American servicemen in Beirut has come out of retirement to lend his support to Chechen rebels fighting the Russian assault on Grozny. “Imad Mugniyeh, one of the founder members of Lebanon’s radical Hizbollah Muslim militia, and as notorious in the international terrorist world in the eighties as Osama bin Laden is today, has been identified as responsible for plotting last week’s terrorist attack on the Russian embassy in Beirut,” the paper said.
Italian newspapers fronted what was taken as a call by Germany’s senior Roman Catholic bishop for Pope John Paul II to resign. According to La Repubblica of Rome, the president of the German Bishops’ Conference, Karl Lehmann, reportedly told a German radio station: “The church needs a strong man to lead it. Wojtyla should admit that he is no longer capable of carrying out his task.” Interviewed by Corriere della Sera of Milan, Bishop Lehmann denied having asked for the pope’s resignation and said he was talking only about “the theoretical possibility” of it.
There seemed to be agreement in the world’s press that the escape of the 14-year-old karmapa, the third-ranking leader in Tibet’s spiritual hierarchy after the Dalai Lama and the panchen lama, embarrassed practically everybody. Everybody agreed that the Chinese were embarrassed. The Asian Age of India said the Indian government was embarrassed by the Dalai Lama’s request that the karmapa should be granted political asylum in India, because India did not “want to jeopardise relations with Beijing, which have witnessed a slight thaw in recent months.” The Dalai Lama was also said to be embarrassed. The Daily Telegraph of London reported Monday that the karmapa might emigrate to the United States if India denies him asylum.
The British press gave much prominence Sunday and Monday to reports that Woody Allen is planning to move from New York to London in order to direct a series of one-act plays, a project reportedly rejected by producers in New York.