What the foreign papers are saying.
Feb. 18 1998 3:30 AM

Reflecting mounting alarm in the Middle East about how Iraq might respond to a U.S. attack, the Israeli paper Ha'aretz reported Monday that 1.5 million Israelis don't have functioning gas masks. The Kuwait Times led with reassurances by the Kuwaiti government that the chances of an Iraqi chemical attack on Kuwait were "remote," but went on to publicize the government's advice on how to deal with one. There being a shortage of gas masks in Kuwait as well as in Israel, the Kuwaiti government announced that gas masks were "not very effective" anyway. An alternative: Break up pieces of coal, tie them in a wet towel around one's face, and use that for breathing. An opinion poll carried out by the Kuwaiti Arabic daily Al-Anba found that all those questioned were very optimistic and "unanimously ruled out any doubt regarding the government's preparedness to face any eventuality." Although the British might be thought to have less cause for alarm, the Times of London led Monday with a story headlined "British alert over Saddam terror strike" about contingency plans to counteract biological or chemical attacks in Britain.


In an interview with the Financial Times of London, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak predicted a furious Arab backlash if the United States was to bomb Iraq. "We have to deal with public opinion in the Arab and Islamic world, and we are going to face a hell of a problem," Mubarak said. "This is very dangerous--I cannot stand against the whole weight of popular opinion." While Ha'aretz led its front page with a report that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had decided not to fire Mossad chief Danny Yatom for his role in the bungled attempt to assassinate Hamas leader Khaled Meshal in Jordan, La Repubblica of Rome published an interview with the "founder and spiritual guide" of Hamas, Sheik Ahmed Yassin, who said he wouldn't be happy if an Iraqi missile fell on Tel Aviv, because "I don't like massacres." But the sheik refused to rule out further Hamas terrorist attacks in Israel, saying that "if Israel attacks us, the Palestinians have the right to defend themselves."

With Madeleine Albright meeting the Italian foreign minister in Washington Monday, all the Italian newspapers led with the news that disagreements about Iraq were seriously dividing the Italian government, with two of the coalition parties threatening to pull out if Italy put its military bases at the disposal of the United States. Italian comment also continued to link President Clinton's gung-ho policy toward Iraq with his Monica Lewsinky problem. In a front-page opinion piece Sunday titled "The Spectre of Vietnam," La Repubblica U.S. bureau chief Vittorio Zucconi wrote that despite the instinctive patriotic solidarity that would accompany the president into battle, "the United States isn't marching into war against Saddam; it is being dragged."

Although it was a coincidence that on the very day the last B-52s arrived in the Gulf, Lewinsky returned to Washington to "launch her bombs against Clinton," the president knew the risks involved. "The citizens of this great power are ready to die at any time for Berlin, Iwo Jima, Seoul, Hanoi, or Baghdad," Zucconi wrote. "But no first lady and no stock exchange index could ever save a president suspected of having sent his soldiers to die for Monica." A new Russian book of verses titled Hail Saddam! was the subject of a report from Moscow in Milan's Corriere della Sera, which quoted from several of the poems extolling the Iraqi tyrant. The "pearl of the book," it said, was a poem by Evgene Nefedov finding the proof of Saddam's virtue in his physical resemblance to Stalin.

The Guardian of London led with a report by its Dublin correspondent that "President Clinton is understood to want Sinn Fein back in the multi-party negotiations on Northern Ireland's future before the St. Patrick's Day celebrations at the White House." Sinn Fein was suspended from the talks Monday after the IRA was implicated in sectarian murders last week. The suspension was generally condoned in the Irish press, but the Irish Times dwelt in an editorial Monday on a new report showing that mortality rates among Irish-born people in Britain "exceed those of all residents of England and Wales by some 30 per cent for men and 20 per cent for women" and that "Irish people there have the highest rates of mental hospitalisation and were more than twice as likely as the native-born to be hospitalised for ... schizophrenia, depression, neuroses, and personality disorders."


With Prime Minister Tony Blair being reported in every British newspaper as condemning the Princess Diana memorabilia industry as "inappropriate and tacky," and in the Sunday Telegraph as warning "Mohammed Fayed to stop talking about [her death] and her relationship with his son Dodi" for the sake of her children, one of the two American authors of the new book, Death of a Princess, denied being part of the tackiness. Thomas Sancton, Paris bureau chief of Time magazine, told the Daily Telegraph, "What is tacky is the amplification given to this book on Fleet Street, particularly by the tabloids." Sancton, who admitted to having relied heavily on Fayed and members of his entourage for his material, said he had made no attempt to contact the princess's family because he believed they would not respond. One of the princess's close friends, Rosa Monckton, London president of Tiffany and Co. and wife of Dominic Lawson, editor of the Sunday Telegraph, wrote in her husband's newspaper that Fayed's claim that Dodi and Diana were to marry was quite untrue. Diana had said two days before her death: "The last thing I need is a new marriage. I need it like [I need] a bad rash in my face."