The Muddle East

The Muddle East

The Muddle East

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
May 20 2001 5:19 AM

The Muddle East

The Los Angeles Times leads with the Arab League's decision calling for member countries to cut off political contacts with Israel. The New York Times leads with word that the United States may be backing away from a draft agreement meant to finally add teeth to the 1972 biological weapons treaty.  The Washington Post's top non-local story, at least online, is an interview with and profile of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, which argues that Rumsfeld's gruff and often secretive style has alienated many of the folks he needs to work with. "He's blown off the Hill, he's blown off the senior leaders in the military, and he's blown off the media," says one detractor.

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The Arab League's decision, which is the off-lead in the NYT, is a particular blow since two members, Egypt and Jordan, have peace treaties with Israel and were trying to broker a cease-fire. No longer. The League also took the United States to task, urging it to "stop any country that would use American weapons against civilians" (a reference to Israel's use on Thursday of American-made F-16s warplanes in the West Bank). The LAT is the only paper to put the League's decision in context: It's actually a somewhat moderate move. The vote is non-binding--a fact that the NYT fails to note--and wasn't nearly as drastic as the other resolution under consideration: calling for member countries to formally sever diplomatic ties with Israel. 
    
The WP front-pager on the Middle East doesn't mention the Arab League. Instead, it's a news analysis contending that 1) few Palestinians or Israelis now believe that diplomacy will help solve the current crisis; 2) the United States is failing in its role as mediator. "Where is the Bush administration?" asked a top Palestinian negotiator.

The NYT has another piece on the violence in Israel, this one stuffed inside, which contains an interesting bit of speculation: Thursday's attack by Israeli airplanes hit an unusual target--a Palestinian police station that had previously been left unscathed--and may have been intended to kill a Hamas military commander who was imprisoned there. (Instead, the commander escaped during the raid.)

There has never been a means to enforce the anti-biological weapons treaty, signed by famous peacenik Richard Nixon and the leaders of 143 other countries. A set of proposed rules (i.e., a draft protocol), in the works for six years, is supposed to address that. But in a secret interagency report (well, until it was leaked to the NYT), the Bush administration concluded that the proposed enforcement rules still aren't strong enough to nab potential violators. "The review says that the protocol would not be of much value in catching potential proliferators," said one unnamed "senior administration official." So what rogue state successfully angled to water down the rules? According to the 17th paragraph, it's the United States, which "has worked to limit the scope of visits by foreign inspectors in order to protect American pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies which dominate the worldwide industry and are concerned with protecting their trade secrets." The Bush administration is concerned that the proposed rules would result in the worst both of worlds: Our secrets would get leaked while Saddam and his like could still go about their business developing bio-weapons.  As a result, the Unites States may propose a "stripped down" (the NYT's words) set of rules.

European allies aren't going to be happy about Bush's lack of enthusiasm for the proposed rules, especially the British who spearheaded them.

The LAT goes above the fold with the agonizing tale of a massacre last month in Colombia. During the week of Easter, in the Naya region, a remote area near the Pacific coast, at least 27 people were killed by right-wing death squads. The article (which includes an online photo gallery) gives the full-story behind the killings, including a day-by-day reconstruction of events. One quibble: The LAT piece congratulates itself for being "the first thorough accounting of the tragedy" -- not exactly.  On April 21, the WP ran (inside) a thousand-word piece on the massacre.

The WP fronts news that the Bush administration has only filled 11 percent of the senior positions that require Senate confirmation. The piece blames lengthier FBI background checks (brought on by the Linda Chavez fiasco), and a slow confirmation process resulting from the Republican's lack of a majority in the Senate. Out of roughly 500 posts to be filled, 55 nominees have been confirmed, while 147 folks have been nominated and are still awaiting confirmation. Many top spots have been filled, but the lower level positions languish. There's been plenty of fallout from the lack of appointments, including, perhaps, the U.S.'s loss of its seat on the U.N. human-rights commission. How's that? We still don't have an ambassador to the U.N.

In a NYT letter to the editor, Fred Scheffold has a simple idea: "I have a suggestion for President Bush that will help his tax-cut plan as well as his energy proposal. How about a large tax credit for new car buyers who buy vehicles that get better than 40 miles to the gallon? Two birds, one stone."

There's the Beef
From the NYT, below the fold: About 10 years ago, McDonald's crowed that it would start frying its fries in "100 percent vegetable oil" instead of beef-based stuff. Veggie-fanatics loved the revised fries. But it turns out that one of the additives, which the burger joint simply listed as a "natural ingredient," was actually beef, apparently used in small amounts as a flavoring. Some American vegetarians have responded to the beef-infused fries, in typical American fashion, with a lawsuit. Some residents of India, though, have had a different approach: "Hindu nationalist politicians called for the chain to be evicted from the country and statues of Ronald McDonald were smeared with cow dung."