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Under the headline "UK to host May peace parley," the conservative Jerusalem Post splashed the news Monday that there would definitely be a new round of Middle East peace talks in London next month, hosted by British prime minister Tony Blair and attended by Benjamin Netanyahu, Yasser Arafat, and Madeleine Albright. The Post attributed this information to a "senior diplomatic source." But the prestigious Israeli daily Ha'aretz was much more cautious, with a front-page headline saying only that "Blair makes some headway in brokering peace get-together." While several of the main British newspapers led Monday with the possibility of a London meeting, none of them took it as a done deal. The conservative Daily Telegraph said in an editorial that while Blair might have a useful role in preparing the ground for a new U.S. diplomatic effort, "anything more ambitious is pure presumption."
Although Blair was described in the headline of a JerusalemPost editorial as a "most welcome visitor" to Israel, the paper said the idea "that the Stormont wizard can perform another miracle in the Holy Land is nice, but somewhat unreal." He might, however, be "the right person to talk bluntly to Arafat about terrorism," the Post said. "If he were to do so, and communicate this message to the Israeli public, he would justify his newly-acquired prominence in world politics and facilitate a useful European participation in the peace process." In another editorial marking the arrival in Israel of U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen, the JerusalemPost urged President Clinton to follow the example of "gutsy" King Hussein of Jordan and meet with Ahmed Chalabi, the leader of Iraq's democratic opposition. The Post said it was "difficult to fathom why the US seems slavishly attached to a policy [toward Iraq], built upon 'containment' and UN inspections, that is doomed to failure," when it should be supporting this "viable democratic alternative to Saddam" as "a strategic and moral imperative."
An op-ed piece in Ha'aretz by Sharon Sadeh said Blair "might well serve as an efficient channel for the conduct of secret talks, particularly with the Palestinians and the Syrians, who view Britain as a fairer and more balanced intermediary than the United States." But it is unlikely Blair can restore Israel's confidence in a British role in the peace process, Shadeh said, because he is a prisoner of the anti-Israeli British Foreign Office. The main editorial in Ha'aretz concerned an international campaign to obtain the early release of Israel's Mordechai Vanunu, who was kidnapped by Mossad in Italy 12 years ago, taken back to Israel, and given an 18-year prison sentence for having revealed his country's nuclear secrets. The paper said Israel could not "act permissively toward those who are entrusted with its deepest secrets and then decide to breach their commitment," but it deplored the fact that Vanunu has been held in strict solitary confinement for the past 12 years on the insistence of Israeli security services. "The impression is that the security masters were not content with Vanunu's punishment and sought in addition to drive him insane," the paper said.
In Hong Kong, the South China Morning Post ran an editorial congratulating Clinton for his role in China's decision to send Tiananmen Square hero Wang Dan into exile in the United States. It described this as a victory for Clinton's change of policy a few years ago, when he decided to engage in dialogue with the Chinese government over human rights rather than link the issue to Most Favored Nation trading status. The paper said it was now clear "Beijing is moving in the right direction." It added that the human rights situation is likely to go on improving under new Prime Minister Zhu Rongji, who sees it as "an embarrassing legacy from a less open past which sits ill with his determined policy of engaging China with the world."
But in a news report, the SCMP quoted several Hong Kong opposition leaders as attacking China for using Wang Dan as a pawn in Sino-American relations. Hong Kong dissident Han Dongfang said exile was used by China as an effective way to eliminate internal dissent. In continuing heavy coverage of the death of Pol Pot and its aftermath, the SCMP revealed that the widow of this man who had crushed all religions and murdered thousands of Buddhist monks and nuns had held a private Buddhist ceremony in front of his corpse one hour before his cremation. It also claimed that Thai soldiers who removed locks of hair from his head had been acting at the request of the U.S. government.
In Rome, La Repubblica disclosed on its front page that Pope John Paul II is secretly completing a new encyclical for the third millennium. It said the encyclical, the 13th of his pontificate, will set out the church's thinking on the future of mankind, expressing fears about modern materialism and urging people to look into the real meaning of life. The same newspaper reported that among 30,000 people who visited the Turin Shroud in the cathedral in that north Italian city Sunday was the American tennis star André Agassi, who arrived there from Monte Carlo in a pale blue Rolls Royce, declaring himself to be "a deep believer."
Le Monde of Paris ran a front-page feature titled "Bill Clinton, the 'Teflon President,' " attempting to explain why the president remains so popular despite all the bimbo eruptions. It said he was benefiting not only from a national "state of euphoria" about peace and the economy but also from the fact that "Americans are more European than is generally believed in their reactions to sexual matters." In another front-page piece, Le Monde reported that Brigitte Bardot has joined the ranks of Serb nationalist supporters in France who deny the crimes committed by the Bosnian Serbs and portray them as victims of "a vast American-German-Vatican-Islamic coalition." In an interview published in a new pro-Serb tract, "Allies of the Serbs," the former sex kitten turned animal liberationist said she supports the Serbs against the Muslims because the latter "are overrunning the world, and their animal slaughter practices are an abomination against which I fight every day." Bardot added she hopes one day to visit Serbia, "simply, without tralala." The death Sunday of another animal liberationist, Linda McCartney, who even created a vegetarian dog food line, was massively reported in papers all around the world.