- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 11, 2003

New York Times

North Korea's decision to withdraw from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty represents a sharp turn for the worse in an already dangerous crisis. It may be a particularly reckless bargaining tactic meant to extort a nonaggression pact from America or, worse, part of a crash drive by Pyongyang to build a stockpile of nuclear weapons. Either way, the move complicates the search for a diplomatic solution and adds to North Korea's dangerous isolation. The North claims to have no quarrel with the international community, only with Washington. By targeting an important global treaty, it belies its own argument. …

Washington has made clear its desire to resolve this matter peacefully and its willingness to address the North's security and economic concerns. Since Thursday, North Korean diplomats have been talking with Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico, a Democrat. Though he does not represent the Bush administration, Mr. Richardson, who is a former special envoy, ambassador to the United Nations and energy secretary during the Clinton administration, has useful experience with North Korea. The White House is wise to leave all diplomatic doors open as it explores further responses with North Korea's neighbors, including Russia, China and Japan.

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Boston Globe

Ariel Sharon is not in trouble because his rivals resent him or because of a political conspiracy, as he alleged Thursday in a tirade on television and radio — before Israel's Central Elections Committee cut off the broadcast, saying that the prime minister had violated Israel's law against political propaganda on the air within 60 days of an election.

Sharon and his Likud Party are sinking swiftly in polling surveys because of two separate scandals, one involving charges of vote-buying within Likud and the other a complex affair of receiving campaign funds from what might have been an American shell company and paying the money back with convoluted loans that culminated in $1.5 million being transferred in suspicious stages to Sharon's sons from a family friend in South Africa. …

As things stand, Sharon is aligning himself against an Israeli expectation that political leaders will set an example of respect for the law. On April 10, 1977, the late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin resigned over a much less serious breach of trust — the disclosure that his wife held a checking account in a bank in the United States.

More than ever, Israelis need a leader in the mold of Rabin.

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Houston Chronicle

Suddenly there are two boiling pots on the international scene — Iraq and North Korea — and no back burner on which the Bush White House can put them.

As the administration gathers its forces for war with Iraq, North Korea boldly escalated its confrontation with the United States on Friday, declaring that it was immediately pulling out of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, something none of the nearly 200 other signatories to the pact has ever done.

The brinksmanship has been widely and rightly condemned. …

North Korea's statement of withdrawal from the treaty said it is seeking a "peaceful settlement of the nuclear issue through negotiations" and it might be willing to set up a "separate verification" procedure.

The trick, of course, will be to get North Korea back into compliance with its obligations with a firm verification regime and without even appearing to reward it for nuclear blackmail.

Some have suggested bombing North Korea's nuclear facilities.

Diplomacy must be backed by a credible military option, but this is not the time for a meltdown of statesmanship.

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Washington Times

The potential political contagion of the turmoil in Venezuela, where warring factions are killing each other in the streets, is cause for serious concern. However, much of the world also is focused on Venezuela's ability to affect a more tangible matter — oil prices. A six-week-long oil strike, waged to oust Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, sent prices up to two-year highs, to almost $34 a barrel last week. Prices have tapered off on news that Russia and Saudi Arabia will step up production, but continue to hover around record highs.

America has long depended on the world's fifth-largest oil exporter as a reliable standby in the market and a convenient counterweight to the oil-rich Middle East, getting more than 13 percent of its imported oil from Venezuela. The Venezuelan strike has reduced the flow of oil to world markets by about 2 million barrels per day and has caused U.S. oil companies' inventories of crude and petroleum products to drop to a 26-year low. …

The Bush administration has reportedly been working behind the scenes to try to broker a deal that would restore stability and the flow of oil from Venezuela. The State Department has publicly called on both sides to show "maximum flexibility." If some kind of deal isn't reached soon, Venezuela will be the primary loser. Oil generates 80 percent of Venezuela's export revenue, and half of the government's revenue. The Venezuelan economy was tottering before the strike, with a contraction of 8 percent expected for last year and unemployment close to 20 percent. The government says it has lost about $2 billion as a result of the strike.

It is hoped that the White House and other parties move Venezuelans toward a truce sooner rather than later.

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Washington Post

When she left Russia for her Christmas holiday, Irene Stevenson, the AFL-CIO representative in Moscow, had no reason to think anything was amiss. All of her papers were in order, her visa was up to date. When she arrived at Sheremetyevo Airport upon her return, however, she was unexpectedly pulled out of the passport line, refused entry and told to board the next flight out of the country. Ms. Stevenson, who has lived in Moscow since 1989, received no explanation for her expulsion, except for a vague reference to "national security concerns."

If this story were unusual, it would probably be of concern to a few diplomats, and perhaps to the many Russians whom Ms. Stevenson has helped over the years. Unfortunately, her unexpected expulsion is only the most recent, and most egregious, example of recent Russian government mistreatment of foreigners who are explicitly working to promote liberal democratic values in Russia. …

Ms. Stevenson was not engaged in any activity remotely connected with Russian national security. She was advising Russian workers on how to get the back pay they are owed and helping campaign for better working conditions and wages. She was also organizing people in a society where independent organizations themselves are a novelty — helping, in other words, to create the kind of civil society that the Bush administration says it wants to spread around the world, not only in Russia but in places such as Iraq. Nevertheless, her expulsion comes just as the administration is contemplating slashing the budget for democracy promotion in Russia, including funding for the kinds of programs Ms. Stevenson runs, on the grounds that the Russians have "graduated" beyond the need for them. Far from graduating, this latest incident is further evidence that Russia is backsliding, that the power of the Russian security services is growing and that the tolerance for opposition is shrinking. Ms. Stevenson's expulsion requires a response at the highest level. Perhaps President Bush should, once again, look into the eyes of his friend President Vladimir Putin and ask him where he is leading his country.

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(Compiled by United Press International)




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