Fidel Castro on Monday offered the world a chance to eavesdrop on a falsely cordial exchange between heads of state and the behind-the-scenes choreography of a summit meeting. Upset at Mexico's support of a U.N. condemnation of Cuba's human rights record, Mr. Castro released a tape of a phone call he received from Mexico's president, Vicente Fox, before last month's U.N. aid conference in Monterrey. Mr. Fox was outwitted by Cuba's wily 75-year-old dictator. Contrary to his claims that he had never pressured Mr. Castro to leave the meeting early, Mr. Fox is caught on tape asking "as a friend" that Mr. Castro do just that.
After Mr. Castro agreed to leave early and asked what else he could do for his Mexican "friend," Mr. Fox requested that the Cuban leader refrain from criticizing the United States and President Bush. Mr. Castro was incensed.
Mr. Fox's call was akin to a dinner party host reaching out beforehand to an ill-mannered guest.
President Fox's relief is palpable once he gets Mr. Castro to agree to leave after lunch on the day that President Bush is to arrive. Mr. Castro skillfully alternates between chiding Mr. Fox and being exceedingly solicitous. When Mr. Fox suggests it's best if he go "back" after lunch, Mr. Castro wryly asks, "To the hotel?"
In the end, Mr. Castro thanks the Mexican president for coming up with a "decent formula." Mr. Fox must have felt as if he had dodged a bullet. Little did he know that instead of resisting Mexican pressure to leave the summit meeting early, the Cuban leader was eager to accede, then make an issue of it. That was Fidel's trap, and with proof in hand of the pressure that would surely be denied, he may have been hoping to blackmail Mexico into abstaining from voting against Cuba at the U.N. human rights conference. He failed but then took his revenge.
As President Bush prepares for the visit of Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Abdullah, the administration must free itself from the platitudes and talking points ordinarily used to describe the "strength" of U.S.-Saudi relations. For the reality is that -- aside from radical states like Iran, Iraq, Syria, Libya and Cuba -- few regimes have done more to undermine American foreign-policy interests in recent years than the regime in Saudi Arabia. The malevolent Saudi approach to Middle East peace was on display Sunday, when Mr. Abdullah's foreign-policy adviser, Adel Al-Jubeir, sought to justify Arab terrorism and Saudi anti-Semitism on NBC television's "Meet the Press" with Tim Russert.
Mr. Russert peppered Mr. Al-Jubeir with tough questions. He reminded him that the Saudi ambassador to Britain recently published a poem praising Palestinian suicide bombers, writing that they had "died to honor My God's word." ... Asked how he squared his expressed desire for "peace" with the recent Saudi telethon that raised $92 million for families of Palestinian "martyrs," including the families of suicide bombers, Mr. Al-Jubeir brazenly denied that his government supported suicide bombers and declared that the Saudis opposed "the killing of innocent lives." He declined even to say whether suicide bombers were murderers. ...
The lot of any Saudi government spinner has to be pretty miserable these days. No sane person could enjoy having to go on American television knowing he'll be peppered with nasty questions, such as, why were 15 of the 19 hijackers who struck the United States on Sept. 11 Saudi nationals?
Here's a related matter Mr. Bush might want to ask Mr. Abdullah about when they get together: The German newspaper Die Welt has reported that Saudi Arabia financed the escape of 4,000 agents of Osama bin Laden from Afghanistan to Lebanon, and has offered $5,000 for each al Qaida member who resettles in the West Bank or Gaza. Is this the latest Saudi contribution to the famous "peace process"?
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has insisted that his army's offensive in the West Bank has been aimed at uprooting the infrastructure of Palestinian terrorism, in the same way that the United States has used military force to drive al Qaida from Afghanistan. That seems a worthy goal, and to some a valid comparison -- and yet it doesn't explain why Israeli troops would have raided and deliberately destroyed the civilian ministries of the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah. ... But the pattern of destruction also suggests a crucial distinction between Israel's campaign and that of the United States. Both invasions are aimed at crushing terrorist organizations that have carried out savage attacks on innocent civilians. But Israel also has another target: the Palestinian national movement, which aims at ending the Israeli military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip and creating a Palestinian state in its place.
The problem with equating Israel's campaign against terrorism with that of the United States, as Mr. Sharon and some of his American supporters do, is that it overlooks this contest for territory and sovereignty underlying the Israeli-Palestinian bloodshed. ...
The disastrous decision of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat not to accept a negotiated settlement of Palestinian claims and his subsequent encouragement of a violent uprising against the Israeli occupation have justified an Israeli response. But they have also given Mr. Sharon and other Israeli nationalists the cover to pursue their own unacceptable ambitions. ...
The Bush administration's uncompromising opposition to terrorism following Sept. 11 is politically and morally powerful and has yielded impressive results, both in Afghanistan and in many other parts of the world. Nevertheless, if counterterrorism is to remain an effective cause, the administration must discriminate between terrorism and the sometimes legitimate political causes it is used for; and it must also differentiate between legitimate defenses against terrorism and attempts to use counterterrorism to justify unacceptable aims. ... The Bush administration needs a policy that can tell the difference between the two.
Los Angeles Times
Israel's furious attacks on Palestinian towns have bought a relative calm, but that must not be confused with lasting peace. Unless both sides start talking again about how to build a Palestinian state, sooner rather than later, there will be more suicide bombings, more reprisals, even deeper hatred of one people for another, more risk that the conflict will spread.
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said Tuesday that the campaign to root out terrorists on the West Bank opened the door to peacemaking with Palestinians and to "regional peace." He pronounced himself "optimistic about the future." We can't share that optimism. Not if Sharon keeps offering shopworn rhetoric of the kind in his televised speech to pro-Israel Americans: a complete end to violence, a long-term truce between Israelis and Palestinians and eventually a final settlement. Those are the old ideas that have produced violence from Palestinians promised a state of their own and unwilling to wait until Sharon decides when they can achieve it. ...
More than 400 Israelis and more than 1,000 Palestinians have been killed since attacks resumed in September 2000, following Yasser Arafat's eleventh-hour rejection of the peace plan the United States had brokered. Still, this week's violence has been less than during Israel's three-week West Bank offensive.
In Spain, Israeli and Arab officials agreed Tuesday after two days of talks that there could be no "military solution" to the Middle East conflict. Now the U.S. and other nations need to charge into this tiny opening and push both sides to put as much energy into political negotiations as they have into bloodshed.
Dallas Morning News
Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah arrives at President George W. Bush's Texas ranch Thursday without the non-pareil status that Britain's Tony Blair brought to Crawford earlier this month. Still, the Saudi prince arrives with this important standing: He is the most crucial Arab leader of the coalition against terrorism, whose strains have grown apparent. The crown prince is the gateway to progress on several fronts, which Mr. Bush must press his visitor on Thursday.
First ... President Bush should press the prince ... to clearly define security for Israel. His original statement appeared bolder than the one that the Arab League later approved.
Second ... Mr. Bush also should raise the Saudi government's commitment to cracking down on terrorists' links to Saudi Arabia. ...
Third...The president cannot expect Saudi Arabia to get vocal about removing Saddam Hussein, although the crown prince must surely want the Iraqi regime to end. The best that Mr. Bush can hope for is a Saudi commitment to keeping U.S. troops there. If a military attack becomes the ultimate answer, the United States may need the Saudi bases.
Progress on these three fronts will not come easily. But they would produce a significant advance on the war against terrorism, which we hope the Crawford summit will produce.
Pervez Musharraf is campaigning hard to persuade Pakistanis to cast their votes for him to serve another five years in the presidency. But there's something conspicuously lacking from his campaign: an opponent.
Musharraf, who led a military overthrow of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in 1999, has decided he needs a measure of democratic validation to strengthen his position. So he is holding a referendum April 30 to give his citizens a chance to express their sentiments on whether he should continue in power. There seems no doubt that the votes will go his way.
This dubious plebiscite creates considerable discomfort in the U.S. government, which imposed sanctions on Pakistan after Musharraf's coup but lifted them in gratitude for his indispensable help in the war against the Taliban and al Qaida. Washington does not like to invite criticism for hypocrisy, which it is getting from Musharraf's detractors.
But the Bush administration's dependence on the general for cooperation in fighting terrorism means it can ill afford to break with him over his undemocratic policies. Object too strenuously, and the U.S. military might lose the bases it has been using in Pakistan. The Pakistani security services, which recently arrested one of the highest-ranking leaders of al Qaida, might also lose interest in locking up terrorists. ...
For the moment, at least, the Bush administration is in a weak position to demand reforms from Musharraf. But it shouldn't encourage his delusion that the referendum will confer on him a legitimacy that he hasn't earned.
(Compiled by United Press International)