What the foreign papers are saying.
March 11 1998 3:30 AM

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan told Milan's Corriere della Sera Sunday that he knew he was close to an agreement with Saddam Hussein in Baghdad when the Iraqi leader asked him if he could leave the room for a few moments to pray ("I knew that the pope was also praying for peace, and with such support, how could I fail?"). Annan said he believes the agreement will hold because--as has never happened before--it was negotiated in person by Saddam; he also said Bill Clinton had shown "a great capacity for leadership" in the Iraqi crisis by uniting diplomacy with a show of force.


Other Italian Sunday newspapers led on the protest march in Rome Saturday by 15,000 people with white sheets over their heads demanding access to a new cancer treatment that the Italian government has been trying to suppress pending the outcome of clinical trials. The marchers barracked the office of Prime Minister Romano Prodi, who refused to come out because he was with U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who reportedly was ticking him off for not being tough enough on the Serbs on the Kosovo issue (see Slate's "The Week/The Spin" for more on the situation in Kosovo). The cocktail of untested cancer drugs prescribed by Professor Luigi di Bella of Modena has aroused huge popular enthusiasm in Italy--a fact attributed by Eugenio Scalfari, founding editor of La Repubblica of Rome, to the Italian people's unique faith in miracles.

One miracle in which Italians don't believe, however, is that men will change their ways. An opinion poll published over the weekend showed that 71 percent of Italian women support the legalization of brothels. In an editorial Sunday, La Repubblica called for open discussion of the prostitution problem and did its bit for the cause the next day by devoting two richly illustrated pages to the subject. Also Sunday, La Repubblica ran an editorial supporting President Clinton's anti-smoking crusade, which it said had replaced Iraq as the chief diversion from the Monica Lewinsky scandal. The paper expressed surprise that Clinton's attacks on smoking were treated as remote and irrelevant in Europe--especially in Italy--when tobacco was in fact the biggest killer in most countries of the world. "We import from the States so many useless fashions, horrible films, and suspect religions," it said. "So why can't we pay more attention to a war that, in this instance, actually is 'just'?"

The other big Italian news story over the weekend was the life sentences imposed by the Italian military court of appeals on 84-year-old former Nazi Erich Priebke and his SS henchman Karl Hass for the massacre of 335 civilians at the Fosse Ardeatine caves outside Rome in March 1944. La Repubblica welcomed the sentences for "conciliating the law of men with that of memory and conscience" but reported Monday that they had divided Italian Jews. Leaders of the Roman Jewish community, the largest and oldest in the country, formally dissociated themselves from the president of "the Italian Israelitic Communities," Tullia Zevi, who had called for clemency saying that "nobody wants an 80-year-old to end his days in prison."

On the same day the British Sunday Telegraph led with the news that the World Health Organization, recently accused of suppressing a report showing that cannabis isn't as dangerous as tobacco or alcohol, had now suppressed "a study which shows ... not only [that] there might be no link between passive smoking and lung cancer but that it could even have a protective effect." The next day the liberal Guardian claimed in its front page lead story that this was nonsense put out by the British American Tobacco Co. It said BAT had deliberately drawn the wrong conclusions from the study, which had not been held up by WHO but had been submitted to the journal of the National Cancer Institute in the United States.

The Times and the DailyTelegraph of London both led Monday with stories about plans for the downgrading of the British royal family in response to pressure for constitutional reform--the Times saying that Prince William would lose his seat in the House of Lords and the Telegraph that minor royals would lose their police escorts. The queen had already been reported in British newspapers as preparing to 1) end bowing and curtsying and 2) cut down on the number of "royal highnesses" in her family. The French press led mainly on the implication of former Foreign Minister Roland Dumas (now president of the Constitutional Council) in an alleged corruption scandal that has to do with the sale of French frigates to Taiwan. The German press focused on the German Green Party, whose radicalization might make a political alliance with moderate Social Democrat Gerhard Schröder that much harder. (Schröder is challenging Helmut Kohl for the chancellorship in September's election.) This was seen as giving Kohl a better chance of victory.

The liberal Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz said in a gloomy editorial Monday that there was "a chilling sense these days of sights and sounds from the period of impervious apathy which preceded the 1973 war." It accused Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of achieving nothing during his four-nation European tour. "The four-point plan which he hurriedly submitted yesterday to the prime minister of Britain only recycles his futile proposals," Ha'aretz said. The conservative Jerusalem Post led on Netanyahu's rejection of Tony Blair's request for a halt in West Bank settlement activity. In an editorial, it urged the United States to back Netanyahu's proposal for a summit with Yasser Arafat, who, it claimed, was now responsible for the stalemate in the peace process.

In Saudi Arabia, Asharq Al-Awsat said Arab countries were facing a very grave crisis with unforeseeable consequences because of the fall in the price of oil. This would be "a very difficult year for the economies of all Arab countries," it said, adding, "The risk is a repeat of the scenario of the second half of the 1980s, which, in the case of Algeria, resulted in a bloody and unstoppable civil war."

The St. Petersburg Times of Russia reported plans by left-wing groups to disrupt the planned summer burial of the remains--of Czar Nicholas II; his wife, Alexandra; three of their five children; and four of their servants--discovered near Yekaterinburg in 1991. Despite continuing argument about the authenticity of the remains, the government had made "a final decision" to have a state funeral (complete with a military guard saluting the cortege along its route) in St. Petersburg July 17. While the federal government will foot most of the bill for the funeral, "the city will have to cover costs for paving roads and painting houses," the newspaper said.