BROOKE GLADSTONE: We're back with On the Media. I'm Brooke Gladstone.
BOB GARFIELD: And I'm Bob Garfield. In recent weeks the headlines have been dominated by stories from around the globe -- America's Plea for Help in Iraq -- Israel's Hard Line on Yasir Arafat --The Walkout at the World Trade Organization Conference in Cancun, Mexico -- and all sorts of stuff that Martin Walker, as always, has collected. Martin is the chief international correspondent for United Press International and is back to tell us what is being said in the world press. Martin, welcome back!
MARTIN WALKER: Hello there.
BOB GARFIELD: Let's start with the courting by President Bush of allies to come in and help clean up a very difficult situation in Iraq. What's the European press saying about that?
MARTIN WALKER: Well, they're not being nearly as negative as you might expect. Le Monde, the French newspaper, said "Neither France nor any other European country has any interest whatsoever in telling the American government we told you so nor in helping to make matters worse when we all have an interest in restoring stability in Iraq." The center-left Frankfurter Rundschau of Germany is really cautiously upbeat. It says "Any opportunity to repair damaged relations between Europe and America must be seized with both hands."
BOB GARFIELD:Have others, however, voiced the predictable sentiments that the United States has arrogantly, unilaterally gotten itself in this situation and-- now is no time to ask for Europe to bail us out?
MARTIN WALKER: You're very nearly quoting the editorial in Kommersant the Russian financial daily which says "Many in the world and particularly in Europe really believe that saving the drowning is a job for the drowning themselves. The attitude is the Americans have got themselves into this mess, so they can jolly well sort it out themselves." The Russian press though has really been almost unique in being quite so waspish about this.
BOB GARFIELD:You used the term "waspish." The waspishness is not confined to the discussion of the United States's Iraq policy but coverage of all things U.S. has been quite harsh coming from Russia!
MARTIN WALKER: Well it has been. I mean I was very struck by the way in which the Russian press marked the anniversary of 9/11. Moskovsky Komsomolets for example condemned what it called "the new habit in America to turn 9/11 into an indulgence - into a reason, a justification, a propaganda symbol, an advertising tag, a source of permission for absolutely everything - to excuse any kind of American behavior. The ashes of those who died on 11th of September should not just touch our hearts but also our minds. Ramming those ashes into cannon like gunpowder is blashphemy." Now this kind of stuff struck me as being very strident given that we've got President Putin coming for a summit in Washington next month and that the Russian government has made it clear that they're not against an international military force in Iraq, nor are they against an American commander and that they are, as Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov was saying just this week, they are "ready to consider sending Russian troops to such an international force." So, there's a bit of a disconnect here which, which I find striking.
BOB GARFIELD: Any explanation that you can come up with?
MARTIN WALKER:Yes, I, I think what it reflects is the degree to which the Kremlin leadership of President Vladimir Putin is out of step with a great deal of Russian opinion on attitudes towards the United States. There's a very strong I think tradition certainly in the Russian armed forces, certainly in much of Russian officialdom to still think of the U.S. in terms if not of the Cold War as being a very, very grudging kind of partner for the U.S. -the Americans haven't really supported Russia on Chechnya and the United States is still dragging its feet over getting rid of some of those Cold War legacies like the Jackson-Vanick Amendment which restricts Russian trade.
BOB GARFIELD:In the World Trade Organization talks in Cancun, developing nations walked out in disgust at what they perceived to be the developed world's lack of trade concessions to poorer countries, and it was a little surprising, at least in the European press how they decided to apportion blame!
MARTIN WALKER: They are tending very much more to blame the European Union than to blame the Americans. And I find that quite striking, because normally the European press is, is very, very quick to throw as much blame as it possibly can on to the United States. But France's Liberation, for example, which is a, a left wing paper says "The European Union has taken much of the blame for the collapse of the World Trade talks -- quite rightly so. European in particular but also the Americans and Japanese have to decide once and for all whether or not they are prepared to accept the rules of a free trade game which they themselves drew up but which they merrily violate with dismaying regularity." In the Middle Eastern press, in the Arab press in particular, you really have the Third World view. Al Ahram for example. "At long last the poor took a stand against the Machiavellian machinations and threats of the rich and powerful nations. The poor countries simply refuse to cave in to the demands or accept the bones tossed to them as sufficient compensation for historical injustices. Cancun was a crushing defeat for the United States and the European Union."
BOB GARFIELD:Well let's talk about the Arab press for a moment. Early in the week, an Israeli politician made what I suppose was a blunder in saying aloud what a lot of people have been thinking now for years which was that it was in Israel's interest to get rid of Yasir Arafat, either by deportation, exile or by actual political assassination. This of course raised a storm of criticism and-- I guess not the least of which from the Arab press.
MARTIN WALKER: Oh, well the Arab press has been absolutely hysterical about this. "Orders to Murder, Israel to Send Out Its 007s" -- that's from the Egyptian paper Al Usbu. Al-Waft of Saudi Arabia -- this is from an editorial -- "How can anybody now consider Israel to be an acceptable negotiating partner when it violates every norm of international behavior and threatens assassination upon an elected leader of an Arab people?" The tone is predictably strong in, in the Arab press, but it's, it's also going along with something else which is really starting to strike me as-- rather worrying which is the way in which the Arab press is increasingly taking on board now the view that 9/11 wasn't nearly what it said -- that the Americans did it themselves. There was Al Jazeera for example that -- its most top-rated program is From the Other Side -- a TV talk show -- and two Arab newspapers now I've seen have run transcripts of the latest show which was a debate between an American spokesman, Jonathan Chancer [ph] of the Washington Institute for Near East Affairs and the French author Thierry Meyssan who wrote that book Appalling Fraud, saying the Pentagon themselves bombed the Pentagon on 9/11. And the poll conducted by the Al Jazeera TV show found that at the start of the program, 74 percent of Al Jazeera's viewers believed the French author. By the end of the show, the number believing the French author had risen to 87 percent. So the tone of the Arab press is-- absolutely extraordinary at the moment, and I think it really reflects the combination of both Iraq and the renewed crisis in Israel-Palestine relations.
BOB GARFIELD: Well, listen - thank you very much. As always, it's been a pleasure.
MARTIN WALKER: Thank you.
BOB GARFIELD: Martin Walker is the chief correspondent for United Press International.