What U.S. newspapers are saying

Aug. 8, 2002 at 11:02 AM
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New York Times

After years of delay, construction began yesterday on one of the two nuclear reactors that a Western consortium is building for North Korea, capping an encouraging few weeks in that country's erratic relations with the outside world. Although President Bush called Pyongyang part of an "axis of evil" in January, Washington has wisely decided to explore diplomatic avenues to the extent that the North's unpredictable behavior permits.

North Korea's leader, Kim Jong-il, has sounded reasonable before, only to reverse course and embarrass advocates of engagement in Seoul and Washington. The wisest American course for now is to keep open the lines of communication to learn more about Pyongyang's true intentions ...

The only consistent theme in North Korean policies over the past several years has been the increasingly desperate effort by top leaders to maintain control in the face of a catastrophically failing economy. Pyongyang's best hope lies in opening its economy to market forces and outside investment and abandoning an unconventional-weapons program that frightens South Korea, Japan and the United States, all of them potential targets.

Yet the North's leaders hesitate, fearing that market liberalization would undermine Communist Party control. Rather than abandon unconventional weapons, the North has continued selling missiles and technology to Pakistan and the Middle East and demanding large pay-offs from Washington as a condition of cutting off these lucrative exports.

America should not submit to extortion, but should avail itself of serious and verifiable opportunities to eliminate real threats. That is a difficult path to follow, but the 1994 nuclear agreement that led to yesterday's start of construction is a good example of the benefits that can result.

In that accord, North Korea abandoned Soviet-era reactor technology that made it relatively easy for nuclear waste to be reprocessed into bomb fuel. Before the new reactors come into operation three years from now, Pyongyang will have to allow all its nuclear plants and laboratories to be monitored by the International Atomic Energy Agency and will have to account for the plutonium it produced before 1994.

The Bush administration showed support for that nuclear agreement by sending a special envoy to yesterday's foundation-laying ceremony. Provided that Pyongyang avoids any new provocations, the next step should be reopening talks to discuss similar solutions to other security issues.

Washington Post

NATO'S coming eastward expansion and its new partnership with Russia have prompted a major change in direction by one of Europe's largest and most unsettled nations, Ukraine.

A country of more than 50 million people that is still struggling to gain its political and economic footing after a decade of independence, Ukraine has abruptly dropped its longstanding policy of balancing itself between the West and Russia. Its government recently requested talks on becoming a full member of both NATO and the European Union.

The reaction has been guarded: Both European governments and the Bush administration seem unsure whether Ukraine should be a part of the Western alliance in the future, and there is resistance even to upgrading its relations with the EU. But Ukraine is too big to be safely kept on the back burner. The United States and Europe must formulate a clear answer ...

Yet Ukraine as it exists today is a most difficult partner for the West to take on. Its economy remains a post-Communist shambles, and though it is nominally a democracy, its president, Leonid Kuchma, has frequently resorted to thuggish tactics ...

Of even greater concern is Ukraine's involvement in improper arms trafficking and service as a transit point for illegal drugs and other contraband ...

The Bush administration and most European governments have steadily distanced themselves from Mr. Kuchma. Congress has reduced U.S. aid. Some officials argue that Ukraine should not be invited even to begin discussions with NATO on conditions for becoming a member, at least as long as Mr. Kuchma and his cronies are in power.

But NATO, which has laid out comprehensive and detailed reform programs for each of the countries seeking membership offers later this year, could also provide a structure for long-term change by Ukraine. A dialogue could constructively begin on such issues as arms sales, drug trafficking and military reform, with the understanding that these are the first steps in a membership preparation process that could extend for a decade.

Making countries such as Ukraine fit for the club of Western democracies may not be NATO's first purpose, but the alliance is the best vehicle that exists for managing what is, ultimately, a transition vital to long-term European security.

Chicago Tribune

From the very beginning, America has depended on the loyalty of friends. That was as true in the nation's first war as it is in the latest conflict against terror.

Marie Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier was one of the best friends America has ever had. Better known as the Marquis de Lafayette, the famous French soldier and statesman now, at last, is a fellow citizen.

President Bush Tuesday hailed Lafayette as "forever a symbol of freedom" in signing legislation making him an honorary U.S. citizen. He becomes just the sixth person to be so honored, joining Winston Churchill, Mother Teresa, Raoul Wallenberg, William Penn and his wife, Hannah.

America's very survival was at stake in 1777 when the 19-year-old Lafayette arrived in the war-torn colonies. Heir to a great fortune, with a keen military mind and a passion for liberty, he proved himself an indispensable hero on and off the battlefield. Lafayette convinced the French government to make the decisive military and financial commitment that proved critical in America's battle for independence.

He fought alongside George Washington, wintered at Valley Forge and was wounded at Brandywine. He helped lure British Gen. Cornwallis' army to Yorktown where combined American-French forces emerged victorious. That decisive battle led to the British surrender.

After the war, Lafayette went back to France but continued to serve American interests the rest of his life. On a triumphant return visit to the United States in 1824, Lafayette became the first foreign dignitary to address Congress. When he died a decade later, the House and Senate draped both chambers in black.

"Liberty now has a country," Lafayette once said of America's independence victory. Now, 168 years later, this dear, indispensable friend of America, too, can call it home.

Dallas Morning News

Under threat of an U.S. attack, Iraq is suddenly making noises about its willingness to entertain allowing the United Nations to resume the weapons inspections from which Iraq barred it in 1998. It has invited the head U.N. weapons inspector to Baghdad to talk about resuming the inspections for nuclear, biological and chemical weapons. And it has invited U.S. Congressmen to come and poke around for themselves.

The U.N. Security Council (of which the United States is a permanent member) and the Bush administration are appropriately skeptical. Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein is an accomplished manipulator, who most likely is using the invitations in a cynical effort to delay a U.S. attack and to divide Western opinion.

The Security Council was correct to respond that the inspections could resume only on its own terms, not Iraq's. The administration was correct to give Iraq's invitation to Congress the derisive reply that it deserved.

However, the United States should not be so bent on attacking that it refuses to take yes for an answer in the unlikely event that Iraq decides to abide by the Security Council's demands. It should give international pressure a chance to work and be flexible enough to relent if the pressure succeeds ...

The administration wants "regime change" in Iraq. But the real prize -- regardless of whether Mr. Hussein stays in power -- is eliminating Iraq's mass-destruction weapons and its capacity to build them, and preventing it from using such weapons again.

Los Angeles Times

The discovery that 15 of the 19 hijackers Sept. 11 were Saudi Arabian was a shock to Americans who had seen the kingdom as a solid ally despite its deep cultural differences with the United States. The alliance remained after 9/11, but the U.S. view of the Saudis began to shift.

This week's disclosure that a briefing for a Pentagon advisory board called the kingdom an adversary of the United States and a backer of terrorism strains the ties even more. The Bush administration hurried to distance itself from the comments and reassure the Saudis. But that doesn't mean either nation can entirely dismiss the harsh views in the briefing, given by a Rand Corp. analyst.

The analyst, Laurent Murawiec, told the civilian Defense Policy Board that "Saudi Arabia supports our enemies and attacks our allies" and is "the kernel of evil, the prime mover, the most dangerous opponent" in the Mideast. Those statements are 180 degrees from the long-standing policy of the U.S. government, but they do reflect the beliefs of a number of influential conservatives ...

The Saudi government views itself not just as a civil authority but as a custodian of the holy places of Islam, the religion that began on the Arabian peninsula. There are different brands of Islam just as there are different branches of Christianity.

The Wahhabi school of Islam, which dominates Saudi Arabia and arose there, is the most conservative and the one often taught abroad in Islamic schools financed by the Saudis. In countries such as Malaysia and Turkey, a more moderate form of Islam is practiced.

The United States should press for a reexamination of Saudi religious schools to ensure they are not nurturing future terrorism. Although it is wrong to blame Sept. 11 on religion, it is reasonable to ask why so many hijackers came from one country. Saudi leaders owe it to the 9/11 victims to seek answers instead of brushing aside that painful fact.

Providence Journal

Something is happening in the eastern wing of the axis of evil. During the past several months, North Korea, the world's last surviving Stalinist regime, had lived up to its reputation. When the Bush administration repeatedly issued invitations to resume diplomatic dialogue, the North Koreans simply chose not to respond. And last month, for no particular reason, they provoked a confrontation with vessels from the South Korean navy.

But then last week, in the midst of an international conference on Asia, the North Korean foreign minister requested a meeting with Secretary of State Colin Powell, and the two got together over coffee for 15 minutes in a hotel lobby. No big deal, to be sure -- or was it?

Mr. Powell repeated the administration's position that talks with North Korea must include such subjects as missile exports, adherence to agreements about freezing its nuclear program and the build-up of troops along the South Korean border. And the North Korean foreign minister, Paek Nam Sun, did not blanch ...

The immediate problems, so far as the United States is concerned, are strategic. In a 1994 pact with the Clinton administration, North Korea agreed to freeze its nuclear program in exchange for international assistance, and the United States has supported reconciliation talks between North and South Korea. There can be no compromise in defending the territorial integrity of democratic South Korea, and North Korea must not just end the production and export of nuclear weapons but allow for inspection and monitoring of nuclear sites.

Is North Korea prepared to consider these conditions? There is some evidence the regime wishes to end its ruinous isolation and join the world community. If that is the case, we may be witnessing major reforms in a country that has been reduced to privation and starvation by its rigid adherence to Marxist-Leninism. Or it might be that Colin Powell got a cup of coffee in those 15 minutes, and nothing more.

(Compiled by United Press International)

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