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Wednesday, 21 November, 2001, 07:42 GMT
European press review
The news that Madrid and London propose to resolve the Gibraltar dispute by next summer has aroused understandable interest in Spain and on the Rock itself.

Tony Blair's "pep talk" to Germany's Social Democrats has been duly appreciated.

And there are hopes that what the guns have not resolved in the past two decades in Afghanistan may yet yield to the subtle art of diplomacy.

Cracks on the Rock?

The Gibraltar authorities were quick to react to Tuesday's news that Britain and Spain had agreed to reach a full deal on the future of the disputed Rock by next summer.

"The government," says the Gibraltar newspaper Panorama, "welcomes the clear statement by Mr Jack Straw, the [British] foreign secretary, that no agreements are possible without the consent of the people of Gibraltar."

The government is of the view, the paper adds, that there is "absolutely no prospect of the people of Gibraltar accepting any proposal that involves any transfer of sovereignty, joint sovereignty, shared responsibility for Gibraltar's European Union or Nato affairs, the establishment of cross-border bodies or committees that give Spain a role or say in our affairs, or any Spanish military presence in Gibraltar".

"The right to self-determination... is an irrenounceable objective," the Gibraltar authorities further stated, according to Panorama.

In Spain, Barcelona's La Vanguardia believes that a formula based on shared sovereignty "might clear the way to a definitive comprehensive settlement".

"But it will not be easy," the paper warns. "It is important that London... should cease to defend a strategic interest in Gibraltar".

However it points out that, "as the British press has emphasised, London's greater interest lies in strengthening its links with Madrid as a European Union and Nato partner".

Madrid's El Pais says that now is "a unique opportunity" to settle the centuries-old dispute. Prime Ministers Aznar and Blair "feel safe in their offices with nearly a whole legislature ahead" in both cases. Moreover, Britain's Conservatives, whom the paper describes as "the most ardent supporters of the Gibraltar lobby", are "extremely weakened".

Shoulder to shoulder

After the British prime minister addressed the national conference of Germany's Social Democrats on Tuesday with a tribute to Berlin's decision to offer almost 4,000 troops to the Afghan campaign, the German Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung says that the conference organisers "no doubt congratulated themselves on what, in retrospect, seems like the brilliant idea of inviting... Tony Blair to address delegates".

"Naturally," the paper says, Mr Blair "beat the drum" for a Chancellor Schroeder "almost deserted by his own troops" as he tried to lead them out of the "high-minded self-restraint" of old.

Tony Blair's "coaching on solidarity with the United States and on Germany's role in the 21st Century", may not have been "enjoyed by all delegates", the paper concedes. But they "would do well to take note" that Berlin's partners "expect no contortions, but rather confidence and commitment". Nor do they expect "any hiding behind history", but rather "the will to assume responsibility, even military responsibility, if necessary".

Is there a will?

"Afghanistan is well worth an international conference," says the French Liberation of the news that the UN and Afghanistan's ethnic groups are to meet in Germany on Monday for talks on building a broad-based government for the country.

Over 20 years of war and all its attendant ills make the country a perfect candidate "for the exercise of the arts of diplomacy", the paper adds.

But diplomats have their work cut out, because giving the country "a minimum of consensus to enable it to reconstruct rather than self-destruct" is seen by some as "more of a chimera than a challenge", it points out.

"Many countries have some reason or other to fear for their civil peace," the paper says, "Afghanistan has all possible reasons at once."

Still, "there is at least one reason for optimism", because the two opposite temptations of Communist and Islamist dictatorship have failed and are now things of the past".

The German Frankfurter Rundschau sees the domestic Taleban as a spent force, but worries about the foreigners in its midst.

The paper notes that the Taleban in the northern city of Kunduz "seem to have given up the fight and are ready to negotiate surrender terms", but the al-Qaeda "foreign legion" are "preventing them from so doing by force of arms".

These foreigners "have nothing to lose", it warns.

London's Independent is concerned at the line it perceives the United States to be taking in Afghanistan.

It sees America's response to the Taleban's attempts to negotiate surrenders in Kunduz and in their southern bastion of Kandahar as being "to wash its hands of any responsibility".

"While denying that it would condone killings or massacres," it says, America "is giving the Northern Alliance a free hand to deal with its enemies as it will".

The paper suspects the United States of having what it says is "next to no interest in what happens in post-Taleban Afghanistan". Washington, it adds, "is concentrating all its forces on catching or killing Osama Bin Laden and his associates in al-Qaeda, and wants no more engagement on the ground than is strictly necessary to that end".

Killing the witnesses

An editorial in the leading French daily Le Monde pays tribute to the four journalists - from Afghanistan, Australia, Italy and Spain - killed in cold blood on Monday on the road between Jalalabad and the Afghan capital, Kabul.

"They were armed only with their pens and their cameras, not there to fight but to observe, report and analyse," the paper says. "They saw themselves as witnesses, not protagonists [and] paid with their lives for their professional curiosity... for their desire to go where the action was... and report the facts to the world."

The Spanish El Pais says that the presence of foreign correspondents "often prevents even greater abuses and cruelties". But "the price they pay is sometimes to become victims themselves of those who want no witnesses to their deeds".

"There is a saying that the first casualty of war is truth," the paper adds. "It is in the attempt to prevent this by reporting honestly, that war correspondents risk - and sometimes lose - their lives".

A different tack, or more of the same?

Vienna's Der Standard believes the speech by US Secretary of State Colin Powell on the situation in the Middle East may mark the beginning of a new drive for a resolution of the conflict.

The paper writes that Mr Powell did not mince his words when he urged Israel to stop building settlements. It notes that while also calling on the Palestinians to stop the violence, he by no means laid the blame solely at their door.

"For the first time in such tones," the paper says, "a United States Government official has called on Israel immediately to end the occupation of Gaza and the West Bank, and said that Israel's settlement policy was crippling the chances for peace and security."

But the Swiss Le Temps takes a different view.

It says that the 11 September attacks and President Bush's reference to the creation of a Palestinian state had led Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon "to fear an American about-turn".

"But now he feels reassured," the paper says. Colin Powell's speech has been "welcomed with a great sigh of relief". Why so? Because the views put forward by Washington, amount to just "a warmed-up dish", the paper quotes the Israeli daily Maariv as saying.

The European press review is compiled by BBC Monitoring from internet editions of the main European newspapers and some early printed editions.

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