International Papers

Getting One’s Bills Crossed

Not only the French newspapers but also the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung of Germany led their front pages Monday with French Prime Minister Lionel Jospin’s controversial Middle East trip, which has landed him, a socialist, in open conflict with France’s Gaullist President Jacques Chirac. Not only was Jospin stoned by Palestinian youths in the West Bank after describing the Hezbollah attacks on Israeli troops in Lebanon as acts of “terrorism”; he was also disowned by Chirac, who accused him of damaging France’s “reputation for impartiality” in the Middle East, undermining the “credibility” of French foreign policy, and “limiting the capacity of France to work for peace.” Le Monde defended Jospin in an editorial, saying he might have chosen his words better but that his efforts to forge a more solid relationship between France and Israel were basically commendable. The paper said Chirac had seized the chance to score points over his likely rival in France’s next presidential election.

Other German newspapers led, as did the International Herald Tribune, on the state-election defeat of the Christian Democratic Union in the wake of the party’s financial scandals. The loss, in the northern state of Schleswig-Holstein, though not a crushing one, was a blow to the local CDU leader, former Defense Minister Volker Ruehe, who had hoped the result would bolster his position as a candidate to succeed Wolfgang Schäuble as the party leader. Schäuble suddenly resigned this month, 18 months after taking over from former Chancellor Helmut Kohl. Ruehe is engaged in a bitter struggle for the succession with Angela Merkel, the CDU’s general secretary.

Former German Social Democrat Party strongman Oskar Lafontaine, who resigned as German finance minister last year after disputes with Social Democratic Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, has been paid $50,000 to make a TV commercial for yogurt, Corriere della Sera of Milan reported. The ads show Lafontaine on the island of Majorca with a jar of French Danone yogurt in his hand saying, “Das ist eine gute Wah” (“That is a good choice”), the paper said Monday.

A memoir written in jail by Adolf Eichmann while he awaited execution in Israel in 1962 is to be published shortly and turned over to lawyers for American professor Deborah Lipstadt, who is currently in London defending a libel action brought against her by British historian David Irving for calling him a Holocaust denier, the Jerusalem Post reported Monday. It quoted an Israeli Justice Ministry spokesman saying that it is right to let her lawyers have the memoir as quickly as possible for use in her defense.

The Israeli daily Ha’aretz led its front page with a report that the United States has informed Israel that Syria is preparing to renew peace talks. The United States has received hints in the past few days that the Syrians are ready to make progress on the Lebanon issue, which has recently been the main obstacle to getting the talks going again.

Two Indian newspapers, the Asian Age and the Times of India, reported prominently Monday that Hillary Clinton is trying to persuade her husband to visit Pakistan as well as India during his trip to the subcontinent next month. “Hillary could swing Pak visit” was the Asian Age’s front-page headline. India has been lobbying hard to stop Bill Clinton from going to Pakistan, but Hillary reportedly told a fund-raiser organized by the Pakistan Political Action Committee in New York that she “deeply hoped” he would do so. The papers attributed her remark to a report in the international edition of the News, a Pakistani daily. Hillary told her audience that she intended to be “a strong voice in the Senate for American leadership and involvement” in resolving the Kashmir dispute between Pakistan and India. (For more on the dispute, see this “Explainer.”)

The Times of India Monday fronted the death of at least eight people in a bomb blast close to New Delhi’s railroad station, saying it took place despite “a heightened alert in anticipation of stepped-up militant activity” because of Clinton’s visit. The Hindu reported from Washington that the Washington Times is standing by a story, denied by the Pakistani Embassy, that the United States fears for the president’s personal safety if he visits Pakistan.

In an alarming burst of whimsy, the Times of India said Monday in an editorial that the Indian Institute of Technology in Kanpur, which has offered an honorary degree to Bill Clinton during his visit to India, should have chosen Bill Gates for the honor instead. “Claimed by admirers to be one of the smartest cookies to occupy the White House in recent times, Mr Clinton is said to have been no slouch as a liberal arts student at Oxford, where he enthusiastically imbibed the scholastic aura of the university city though he purportedly refrained from inhaling the more vaporous exhalations of the extra curricular attractions of its dreaming spires,” the paper said. “His later stint in law school stood him in good stead when he deposed before the grand jury in the aftermath of Zippergate when he proved himself to be a skilled semanticist on the subject of truth and its supposed opposite. Indeed, it may have been his creative engineering of the mechanics of veracity that caused the technocrats of Kanpur to roll out the red carpet for him. This said, however, one can’t help wondering if Kanpur IIT hasn’t got its Bills crossed. Wouldn’t Microsoft’s Bill be a more appropriate candidate for its blandishments than his namesake whose public image is more associated with a hard drive than a floppy?”

In an article in the Independent on Sunday of London, British Prime Minister Tony Blair performed what Monday’s Guardian described as the biggest U-turn of his premiership, when he wrote that genetically modified foods could be dangerous to health. In 1998, after intense pressure from President Clinton, Blair agreed to help the United States sell GM food to Europe, according to documents obtained by the Guardian under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act. Last year he told the House of Commons that he himself was eating GM foods. But he wrote Sunday that they gave “cause for legitimate public concern” and that “there’s no doubt that there is potential for harm, both in terms of human safety and in the diversity of our environment from GM foods and crops.”

His U-turn came as it emerged that the biotechnology industry is unable to find enough British farmers willing to grow GM crops for trials due to start this week, the Guardian said. In an editorial headlined “The greening of Tony,” it said Blair seemed to have timed his change of heart to coincide with Monday’s opening of a conference on GM foods in Edinburgh under the auspices of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. “He will have been warned that the gathering threatened to become ‘another Seattle,’ with anti-GM activists dominating proceedings,” it said. “Fearful of the PR disaster that would have ensued, the prime minister clearly calculated that it was better to have red faces in the government before the conference than red paint thrown at the government once it started.” The Independent of London in an editorial welcomed “the new, politically modified Mr Blair.”

The Independent’s main story Monday was the resignation of the chief executive of British Nuclear Fuels after a safety scandal that threatens the survival of Britain’s nuclear reprocessing industry. BNFL’s biggest customer for reprocessed Mox (uranium and plutonium mixed oxide) fuels, Kansai Electric Power, wants to send back a consignment of Mox, which was accompanied by falsified data. The Irish and the Germans want BNFL’s reprocessing works at Sellafield in northwest England closed down. Five workers there have been fired for ignoring safety procedures, and an inspector’s report accused the company of “systematic management failures.” The government welcomed the resignation of John Taylor.

Another Independent front-page report said that all 79 asylum-seekers from an Afghan airliner hijacked to Britain this month are now unlikely to be deported, after other countries with Afghan communities, including the United States, have refused to accept any of them. Many of the hijack victims have made “very strong cases” for not being sent home to face the Taliban rulers of Afghanistan, and even if the British government ordered their deportation, “the decision would almost certainly be overturned by the European Court of Human Rights,” the paper said.

According to the Independent, the British Toilet Association is launching a campaign this week to end a national crisis in the provision of public lavatories. Their number declined dramatically during the ‘90s, when local authorities were squeezed for cash, and now there is only one public lavatory in England for every 10,000 people. “Every man, woman and child has to visit the toilet every day,” Richard Chisnell, the director of the British Toilet Association, told the paper, but there are fears that this important discovery may have been made too late.