THE KNOT OF DIFFERENCES

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THE KNOT OF DIFFERENCES

Parlamentskaya Gazeta, March 14, 2002, p. 7

President George Bush is interested in visiting Russia and expanding relations with President Putin, which he described as “very warm and friendly” in his talk with Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov.

However, despite such assessments and admissions from Bush, it is obvious that serious differences between Moscow and Washington remain, especially regarding global security and strategic stability. Recent events reveal the aspiration of the United States to secure its global dominance. This ambition has been expressed in preparing a new Russian-US agreement on nuclear arms cuts, which is planned to be signed in May during Bush’s visit to Russia; and Sergei Ivanov is now trying to improve matters. The differences on this issue have not been sorted out yet.

The issue of relations between Russia and NATO in the new twenty-member format was discussed during talks at the White House. President Bush stressed that he was still interested in close cooperation with Russia in countering new threats, including terrorism. The situation in Georgia was mentioned in this context; according to Bush, no action can be taken there without taking Russia’s interests into account.

The issue of American nuclear strategy, in the wake of secret documents being leaked to the US media, was not discussed. Ivanov promised journalists that he would comment on this after talking with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. That meeting will cover an expanded range of issues. Yet we should not expect that the tangled knot of differences and disagreements will be successfully unravelled by Sergei Ivanov during this visit.

A HUNDRED DAYS OF SERGEI MIRONOV: TIME TO GATHER STONES

Rossiyskaya Gazeta, March 14, 2002, p. 1

Sergei Mironov has answered some questions from journalists and readers, to mark his first hundred days as speaker of the Federation Council. This is his answer to a question about his visit to Israel.

Sergei Mironov: When the Middle East situation deteriorated, the Federation Council appealed to the Israel Knesset and the Palestinian Legislative Council to start negotiations. In response, I was invited to visit Israel. We planned a two-week visit, during which a short trip to Ramallah was scheduled, to meet with Yasser Arafat and the head of the parliament.

However, during my talks with members of the Knesset, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon assured me that it would be better to work on the Israeli side to study options for resolving the conflict (and there are many of them – almost every party has its own proposal). Foreign Minister Shimon Peres told me afterwards that it would make more sense to study the problem in depth from one side, than to look at it superficially from both sides.

It is worth noting that it was Sharon who informed me that he had given orders to lift the blockade on Arafat two hours ago. He asked me to pass on the following information to the Russian government: he was ready to declare a unilateral cease-fire, and start negotiations without any preliminary terms. There was one condition: Palestinian guerrillas must stop using terrorist tactics.

When I asked him about the prospects of these talks, Sharon said that Israel would never restore the borders of 1967.

My decision not to meet with Arafat during this visit does not mean that I am not going to speak to him at all. On the contrary, I hope that I will be able to talk with the Palestinian delegation within the framework of the Inter-Parliamentary Union conference in Marrakesh, Morocco on March 17-19. I also hope to meet with Arafat in the near future, for an unhurried look at the positions of the Palestinian side on resolving the situation.

FEAR ON THE CONVEYOR BELT

Moskovsky Komsomolets, March 14, 2002, p. 1

From January 1, 2003 all car owners will have to pay more for them. Now the state will require them to take out insurance against damaging other cars or running over pedestrians. Yesterday the Duma debated this in the second, decisive reading.

Slow vehicles (less than 20 kilometers per hour), tanks, armored personnel carriers and other military vehicles will not have to be insured; neither will cars owned by foreigners who have already insured them at home. But other drivers who fail to take out this mandatory insurance coverage will not be able to pass a maintenance inspection or register their vehicles; and road police will be able to confiscate licenses for failure to have insurance.

The insurance policies will be taken out for a year. It is still unknown how much they will cost. The law says that the amount of insurance needs to be specified by the government. According to the Duma’s estimates, insurance for a five-year-old Zhiguli car would cost 1,200 – 1,500 rubles a year. Owners of expensive cars will pay many times more.

What compensation can a victim of a road accident expect? A maximum payout of 240,000 rubles for physical injury, and no more than 160,000 rubles for damage to other vehicles.

Even drivers who already have general insurance will have to take out this mandatory insurance. This kind of insurance policy will be offered by companies which will merge into a special organization (under state control). They will insure not only car-owners, but also each other: all of them will contribute some money to a special reserve fund – in case any of them go bankrupt. Road accident victims will also get money from that fund, if the culprit is not identified.

Members of parliament and companies have been arguing for several years over whethr this law is necessary. Arguments in favor are well known: we are lagging behind “fully insured” Europe, many accident victims cannot receive compensation, and so on. Opponents of the law (Yabloko has declared its intention to vote against it) say this will be another tax on the poor, which is unacceptable. Besides, the amount of compensation is unlikely to satisfy all victims – they will have to appeal to the courts, and only insurance companies will benefit from this innovation.

WAR BETWEEN ISRAEL AND PALESTINE OFFICIALLY CONDEMNED

Izvestia, March 14, 2002, p. 2

The UN Security Council has passed a resolution on the Middle East conflict, satisfactory for both Israel and Palestine. The resolution was passed almost unanimously (14 members out of 15 voted in favor). It states that “Israel and Palestine should live as neighbors, respecting and accepting each other’s borders”. It is not specified which borders are meant. Only the representative of Syria preferred to abstain from voting.

The idea of “living like neighbors” – in the context of a Jewish state and an Arab state – is not new. But it had not been mentioned in official UN Security Council documents since Arab countries rejected the resolution of the UN General Assembly of November 1947 on dividing Palestine into two states. They not only rejected it; they tried to prevent the UN from implementing it: the day after Israel declared independence, almost all Arab countries declared war on it. From that moment on, the idea of creating an Arab state on the territory of “historical Palestine” has been in favor.

A string of Arab-Israel wars has led many people to see reason. The “Saudi initiative”, in particular, serves as proof of this: it suggested that Arabs should acknowledge Israel’s right to exist alongside Palestine. The Saudi plan was praised in the text of the resolution. And methods of terror and violence are harshly criticized.

US representative at the UN John Negroponte explained that this move by the White House was aimed at supporting the peace-making mission of Anthony Zinny. And the idea that the problem should be resolved by establishing a Palestinian state alongside Israel has been mentioned repeatedly by presidents of the United States.

No one is arguing with this, apart from leaders of radical Arab regimes. Neither is Israel arguing. It is quite another matter that “the devil is in the details” – such as, for example, the question of the borders of Palestine, and its population (whether all Palestinian refugees should have the right to return). The UN prefers to keep silent on these matters. The most important point is to declare principles, thus creating the preconditions for Zinny’s success.

The declaration of general principles did not influence those Israelis and Palestinians who fought in Ramallah (yesterday 30 Palestinians and seven Israelis were killed). Rafael Ciriello, an Italian television journlist, was also killed in that town yesterday.

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