- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 14, 2003

New York Times

Two brutal wars have devastated Chechnya over the past decade without resolving the essential issue of the status of the secession-minded republic within the Russian Federation. Vladimir Putin's plan to hold a referendum on a proposed new constitution in March, followed by new presidential and parliamentary elections, is superficially appealing, but falls short of the steps needed to bring the conflict to a democratic resolution. …

Mr. Putin's aim seems not to offer a real political opening but a stage-managed show aimed at convincing the outside world that the Chechen war is over and no longer warrants international concern. …

Mr. Putin should be encouraged to seek a political end to this war. He ought to begin by revising his unhelpful referendum plan.

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Baltimore Sun

Despite Bush administration efforts to downplay the latest face-off between North Korea and the United States, it's without question a serious crisis. Among the worst-case scenarios: A few missteps could turn the Korean peninsula into a horrific bloodbath in just a few weeks — with death toll estimates ranging from 500,000 to several million.

That doesn't even include Japanese deaths if the North started lobbing missiles at U.S. military installations there. From there, it wouldn't take much — say, a missile attack on Alaska — for the conflict to go nuclear, if the North hadn't already dirtied the battlefield with its biological, chemical and nuclear weapons. …

Now, the delicate diplomatic task is a deal in which both sides can claim the other blinked first. Ironically, if the United States essentially ends up offering a no-attack pledge and energy aid, the North apparently believes it can rely on the Americans' word. Would that the United States could have the same faith in North Korea.

That was the great weakness of the 1994 deal struck by former President Carter: It was not strong enough to remove the potential nuclear threats from the North — in part by allowing the North to retain control of a sizable stash of plutonium for which it never has had to account. This time around, having more or less come full circle since 1994, perhaps the best for which the United States can hope is not making the same mistakes at the bargaining table.

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Boston Globe

If it is hard for private citizens to concede a mistake, it is much harder for a government. Witness how reluctantly President Bush and his advisers are coming around to acknowledging that they have no realistic option but to engage in a high-level dialogue, or perhaps even negotiations, with North Korea.

That the administration is retreating from its initial hawkish posturing is evident in the three days of talks that New Mexico's Governor Bill Richardson held last week with North Korea's deputy UN ambassador, Han Song Ryol. The substance of the talks, as described by Richardson and State Department officials, was consistent with what the regime in Pyongyang has been saying not only since October, when the latest crisis over its nuclear program erupted, but for more than a decade. …

The good news is that Richardson had approval from Secretary of State Colin Powell for his talks with the North Korean diplomat, whom Richardson knew from his time as President Clinton's UN ambassador. This is good news because it suggests that Powell, in contrast to other Bush advisers, sees the wisdom of engaging in diplomatic talks with North Korea and recognizes the value of the 1994 Agreed Framework that the Clinton administration negotiated and signed with Pyongyang. …

Indeed, it is crucial that Powell prevails against doctrinal hawks who included Pyongyang in a fanciful ''axis of evil'' and rejected the 1994 Agreed Framework because they don't like negotiating treaties or relying on treaties to prevent nuclear proliferation. The hawks caused the original Bush blunder on North Korea; they have to change their ways.

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Tampa Tribune

Most Americans probably paid little attention to the change in leadership that brought in the new year in the African nation of Kenya. But the emergence of President Mwai Kibaki is most meaningful and deserves the strongest U.S. support.

Since gaining independence from Britain in 1963, Kenya has been run by one party, the Kenya African National Union. Outgoing President Daniel arap Moi had ruled, in autocratic style, since 1978 but was forced by the constitution to step down this year. Moi ceded power graciously — a rarity on the continent — and Kenyans rejoiced not just because they were tired of Moi, but for the promise Kibaki offers. …

Thus, when U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell visited Kenya in 2001, he said it was time for Africa's "big men'' to step down after decades in office, an obvious reference to Moi. Said a young Kenyan at Kibaki's inauguration: "This is liberation. It's like gaining independence one more time.''

Which is why Kenya's future looks brighter than that of many other nations on the continent, and why the United States should do what it can to help Kibaki succeed. If he is successful, his model might spark emulation.

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Seattle Post-Intelligencer

The Bush administration's decision to work more closely with its allies on a response to North Korea may already be paying dividends. The administration finally seems close to having a policy on how to handle North Korea's nuclear threats.

If the remarks of a U.S. diplomat are any indication, the signs point to the White House taking the sensible attitude that it is necessary to talk with North Korea. …

North Korea seems fairly clear about its willingness to drop its nuclear weapons programs if it receives security assurances. Exploring a peaceful resolution makes considerably more sense than simply betting that North Korea will back down.

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Detroit Free Press

Don't go it alone.

That's the clear message to the Bush administration about war with Iraq. Although 83 percent of Americans would support a United Nations-sanctioned fight, 59 percent say the United States should not wage war alone, according to a new poll by Knight Ridder, the company that owns the Free Press.

It just makes sense. The mighty U.S. military is far stronger when the world stands behind it, and other countries' forces stand with it. …

President George W. Bush may need to grant UN weapons inspectors more time if they don't come up with anything definitive by their Jan. 27 report to the UN Security Council. So far, chief inspector Hans Blix says Iraq has not been entirely forthcoming — which technically could put the country in material breach of UN resolutions but is unlikely to convince the world that it's time to go in. Even in Britain, Bush's staunchest ally, Prime Minister Tony Blair has to contend with a popular majority who don't consider Iraqi President Saddam Hussein threatening enough to justify invasion.

That means the administration will have to either wait until Blix finds more — on Monday, officials already said troops may not be ready until March — or offer proof to back up its assertions about Hussein's weapons program. The U.S. military might win a physical battle alone, but success depends also on winning the hearts and minds of the world that must live with the consequences.

Clearly, Bush isn't there yet.

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Los Angeles Times

The U.S. offer of possible energy aid for North Korea if Pyongyang gives up its nuclear weapons development is a realistic starting point for talks between the two countries. It reflects the limited options available to Washington in coming to terms with North Korea and with confusing pronouncements on both sides.

The Bush administration must avoid rewarding Pyongyang for lying about ending its nuclear program, expelling U.N. atomic weapons inspectors and withdrawing from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. Giving it more aid than it would have received before admitting to having an atomic weapons program would be a reward; talking about its obligations and providing a vision of a better future if it ended the program would not. …

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson helped by hosting North Korean diplomats over the weekend at their request in Santa Fe. Richardson, who negotiated with North Korea as U.N. ambassador in the Clinton administration, recommended preliminary talks between North Korea and the U.S. set in New York, leading to broader discussions later. That's a good approach. …

The U.S. offer of possible aid and the North Korean willingness to seek out Richardson as a mediator have reduced tensions somewhat, but talks to push the issue forward should begin soon.

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Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

President Bush has said he wants a diplomatic solution to the problem posed by North Korea's nuclear ambitions — and now, a new Russian proposal may be a way to achieve it. Last October, the State Department reported that North Korea had admitted its intent to build a nuclear arsenal, in violation of a 1994 agreement. Then, in December, the United States suspended fuel shipments to the North, and last week, North Korea withdrew from the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty.

President Bush has made it more difficult to negotiate an end to this downward spiral by sharply limiting the scope of U.S.-North Korean talks and by insisting that North Korea not be rewarded for "nuclear blackmail." But he also has sought help from Russia and China, and that effort seems to be paying off. The outline of the Russian package, set forth last weekend, has three parts: a nuclear-free zone established in the Korean peninsula; the start of a "constructive dialogue" between North Korea and other countries, including the U.S., and resumption of the humanitarian and economic programs shut down in December. …

North Korea is ready to talk seriously with the U.S., says New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, a kind of unofficial middleman between Washington and Pyongyang. The U.S. ought to test that readiness by offering to meet with the North Koreans to discuss either the Russian plan or another initiative that would keep nuclear weapons out of the North. If reasonable concessions are necessary to achieve that key objective, it would be foolish not to make them.

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Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

The question of possible U.S. military action against Iraq gets more confused by the day. The United States continues to pour forces into the region. United Nations inspectors say their work in Iraq could take up to a year. America's allies continue to insist that the United States seek authorization for an attack on Iraq from the U.N. Security Council.

This perplexing picture is superimposed on a background that also includes a hissing and twisting North Korea and worldwide apprehension about oil prices rising as a result of a crisis in Venezuela as well as winds of war over Iraq. …

Several cats are out on limbs, including the United States, Iraq and North Korea. Unless one thrives on uncertainty — and economies don't — it would be useful to find a way to walk some of these cats back off the limbs to relative safety. …

We would hope that Bush administration policymakers, including the war zealots, are thinking long and hard about, viable scenarios to "walk the cats back" without giving up on the goal of neutralizing the threat posed by Iraq.

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(Compiled by United Press International.)





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