New York Times
More than 3 million Americans -- some 800,000 of them New Yorkers -- have roots in Puerto Rico, but to many other Americans the island is an enigma, a place where they are likely to take their passports, which are not needed, but not a knowledge of Spanish, which often is. So it comes as little surprise that as Puerto Rico marked a milestone this week with official fanfare attended by Mayor Michael Bloomberg and a New York City contingent, there was little notice of the event on the mainland.
It was the 50th anniversary of the commonwealth, a status conferred on Puerto Rico to allow self-government and end its days as a colonial prize won by the United States in the Spanish-American War. And while cannons boomed and music and dance made for a festive party, the relationship being marked is showing signs of strain.
With its mix of limited benefits and obligations of United States citizenship, the commonwealth status has endured by default. Several nonbinding plebiscites the island has held over the years have failed to produce an acceptable alternative. ...
Now Puerto Rico is looking for a new deal. Its governor, Sila Calderón, wants more sovereignty and economic opportunity, including control over foreign trade, but statehood advocates refuse to join her efforts to reach consensus on a proposal for change. So she is showing Puerto Rican political muscle elsewhere, heading a drive to register all eligible voters among Puerto Ricans living on the mainland, many of them in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Florida. All that will help to get the attention of members of Congress, who must approve any change for the commonwealth. But the first step, a re-examination of what is best for Puerto Rico, must begin there. And so far, that kind of introspection has been limited, tortured and inconclusive.
The trans-Atlantic relationship stands at another crossroads. When President Bush met with Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder in Berlin this May, he said Washington didn't have any definitive plans to attack Iraq. War-wary Germany hoped that would continue to be true. Besides, it was not an opportune time to talk about controversial topics, especially with German federal elections just around the corner. Now that Mr. Bush has made clear that he is involved in all aspects of the planning to get rid of Saddam Hussein, complete with air, land and sea-based forces, Germany and its European neighbors can no longer delay coming to grips with the threat posed by Iraq.
It is not that Germany disputes that Saddam Hussein is a menace: It just wants to give him another chance. Unfortunately, Iraq's dictator is running out of chances. ...
As the Bush administration has made clear that Iraq's ability to deliver weapons of mass destruction poses an urgent threat, pressure is mounting on Germany and its European neighbors to get off the fence when it comes to confronting Saddam. But a recent interview with Oliver Thraenert, the leader of the security division of the politically independent think tank, the German Institute for International Security Affairs, suggests that the message hasn't sunk in. An air attack, he told The Washington Times, shouldn't come until U.N. weapons inspectors have tried once again to enter Iraq and been refused. ...
But without action, Iraq will definitely remain in the hands of a dangerous tyrant. The two candidates for the office of Germany's chancellor have mostly managed to avoid the topic. The trans-Atlantic relationship may stumble over what action to take, but there should be no disagreement over the fact that Saddam presents an urgent security threat to Europe, as well as the United States. Time and time again, he has demonstrated that he will not be deterred from menacing Israel and his Arab neighbors, brutally repressing the Kurds, Shiites and other Iraqi minorities and developing weapons of mass destruction that could target Europe, and, in a worst-case scenario, the U.S. The Bush administration clearly understands that decisive action to remove Saddam is necessary. Regrettably, this reality has not set in in Berlin.
Can peace be made with the authors of suicide bombing? The prime minister of Sri Lanka, which has suffered more and costlier suicide attacks than any nation in the world, is making a concerted effort to do so -- and so far the signs are encouraging. For years Sri Lanka's government tried and failed to stamp out the terrorism of the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam with brute military force. Sixty-thousand people died in the fighting, and a host of senior politicians, including a prime minister of India, were killed by some 200 suicide attacks. Now Ranil Wickremasinghe, who won election as prime minister last December on a pro-peace platform, is getting some results by addressing the root causes of the violence -- deprivation in Sri Lanka's northern and eastern regions and the aspiration of the ethnic Tamil minority there to rule itself. There is no evidence that al Qaida or other international terrorist groups have links to Sri Lanka; nevertheless, Mr. Wickremasinghe, who visited Washington this week, has a chance to achieve a major success in the global struggle against terrorism. ...
More help will be needed if Mr. Wickremasinghe is to achieve his goals of negotiating an agreement for an interim administration in the Tamil areas, followed by a final settlement that would grant some form of self-rule. The Tigers and their leader, Velupillai Prabhakaran, know little of how to live, or govern, in peace; in the past they have terrorized areas under their control. They need support and instruction from outsiders in how to participate in an administration that will maintain the peace, allow economic reconstruction and respect human rights. They must also be pressured to compromise on their goal of a creating a separate Tamil state, just as Mr. Wickremasinghe's harder-line political opponents, including President Chandrika Kumaratunga, should be prodded to fully support the peace process. The Bush administration can contribute substantially in those areas; by doing so, it can help Mr. Wickremasinghe demonstrate how a seemingly intractable conflict deeply infected by terrorism can be defused.
In the days since July 13, when terrorists armed with grenades and guns killed 28 Hindus in a slum in Indian Kashmir, the hazards there have received little attention in the United States. How quickly things have changed.
In the spring, the Bush administration was scrambling to keep the longstanding conflict in Kashmir from erupting into a full-scale war that might end in a radioactive inferno. But when India and Pakistan stepped back from the brink, attention in Washington went back to the Middle East and other subjects.
It would be a huge mistake, though, to let South Asia drop from the administration's foreign policy priorities. Saddam Hussein may be a threat to acquire and use nuclear weapons sooner or later, but India and Pakistan have them today and could use them tomorrow.
No place on the globe holds more potential for immediate catastrophe than Kashmir. India and Pakistan remain on alert, with a million troops facing each other across the border. And while a measure of calm prevails at the moment, there is ample reason to expect new eruptions in the near future. This is not the moment for complacency, but rather for building on the modest progress achieved in the most recent crisis. ...
The two countries averted disaster in June. But unless someone takes this opportunity to narrow their disagreements, they will be back. And the next time, they may not retreat.
(Compiled by United Press International)