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What U.S. Newspapers Are Saying

     

The New York Times

The United Nations Security Council's compromise choice of Hans Blix as the new chief weapons inspector for Iraq is a disturbing sign that the international community lacks the determination to rebuild an effective arms inspection system in Iraq. Mr. Blix is a man of unquestioned integrity and tact. But he seems unlikely to provide the forceful leadership needed to keep Saddam Hussein from cheating on his arms control obligations and building fearsome unconventional weapons.

The further the world gets from the gulf war, the more it seems willing to let Mr. Hussein revive his deadly weapons projects. Now, after approving a new inspection program that offers a minimally acceptable level of monitoring, the Security Council is turning the inspection work over to a man of uncertain resolve. Mr. Blix compiled a mixed record in his previous job as head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, including a decade-long failure to detect Iraq's secret nuclear weapons program before the gulf war. That embarrassing lapse was not entirely his fault, since I.A.E.A. inspectors at the time had authority to inspect only installations acknowledged by the Iraqi government. Mr. Blix later sought and won strengthened investigative powers. But his tendency to credit official assurances from rulers like Mr. Hussein is not encouraging.

In 1997 Mr. Blix suggested easing the standard for judging when Iraq has met its obligations to eliminate all biological, chemical and nuclear weapons and the missiles to deliver them. He called for winding up inspections once U.N. investigators feel they have uncovered all the prohibited weapons they are likely to find, even if highly dangerous materials remain unaccounted for. That virtually invites Iraq, which has not yet agreed to admit new U.N. inspectors, to continue concealing its illegal programs. We hope Mr. Blix will reconsider his position now that he will lead the inspection effort.

The two men who previously ran the Iraq inspection program, Rolf Ekeus and Richard Butler, rightly insisted that Baghdad would have to provide complete answers to all significant questions about missing weapons, ingredients and records before it could be considered in compliance. Washington should apply a similar standard before approving any move in the Security Council to end international sanctions on Iraq.

With the Clinton administration unwilling to fight for a stronger nominee, even after the U.N. Secretary General, Kofi Annan, boldly proposed bringing back Mr. Ekeus, Mr. Blix may be an unavoidable choice. But the problem of Iraqi weapons development is not going to go away. The United States and its European allies may later regret that they were not more energetic in enforcing Iraq's disarmament obligations.

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Honolulu Star Bulletin

Turmoil in Myanmar, formerly Burma, has spilled over into Thailand with the seizure of a hospital by Myanmar rebels. Thai security forces yesterday stormed the building, killed 10 insurgents and freed patients, visitors and staff who had been held hostage. The gunmen were identified by Thai officials as members of God's Army, a rebel group from the Karen minority. Like many Karens, the followers of God's

Army are fundamentalist Christians; Myanmar is predominantly Buddhist. Adding a bizarre touch, the group is led by twin 12-year-old boys who claim to have mystical powers rendering them invincible.

The rebels came under attack inside Myanmar by government forces last week and the fighting drove 1,000 refugees into Thailand. Thai forces shelled rebel positions to deter rebels from coming across the border.

The insurgents demanded that Thailand grant refuge to civilians and combatants and stop shelling their positions in Myanmar. But the government responded with force to the hospital seizure -- as it had not in an earlier confrontation.

In October, five men from an anti-government group called the Vigorous Burmese Student Warriors took over the Myanmar embassy in Bangkok for 26 hours.

The embassy captors were allowed safe passage in exchange for the release of dozens of hos-tages. They were flown by Thai police helicopters to the border with Myanmar, where they sought shelter with God's Army.

The Myanmar regime of Gen. Khin Nyunt was outraged when Thailand allowed the embassy captors to go free. In retaliation, Myanmar closed the border for two months.

The disaffection of the Karens from the national government goes back to 1948, when Myanmar gained its independence from Britain. Promises of autonomy for the Shan and Karen states were not fulfilled, leading to armed separatist movements.

In 1962 a military coup overthrew the democratic government in Yangon (Rangoon) and established a one-party state. Since then the country has experienced international isolation, political repression and economic stagnation.

In 1988 the military killed about 3,000 pro-democracy demonstrators. Free elections were held in 1990 but the results were nullified by the regime and leaders of the elected government, including Aung San Suu Kyi, placed under house arrest.

The following year she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, which focused international attention on Myanmar's problems but did not result in enough pressure on the military regime to force it to end its repression.

Thailand, which has had its own experiences with military rule, is now finding itself involuntarily involved in Myanmar's conflicts.

The latest incident indicates that the Bangkok government has decided it cannot tolerate further incursions by the rebels. But more border incidents can be expected until Myanmar comes to terms with the insurgents. Myanmar's fellow members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations should exert pressure on Myanmar to make peace and end its repression.

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Dallas Morning News

The recent failure of a prototype missile interceptor to hit its target underscores President Clinton's need to leave to his successor any decision about whether to deploy a national anti-missile defense.

The United States still should develop a defense to guard against launches by rogue states, such as North Korea or Iran, or accidental launches by established nuclear powers Russia and China. But the Pentagon hasn't proved that it can hit an incoming missile reliably and

consistently, and there is no way that it can do that before July, which is when Mr. Clinton has said that he will decide whether to deploy.

The presidential race makes it essential that Mr. Clinton wait so as to avoid confusing the interests of Vice President Al Gore with those of the nation. If Mr. Clinton were to order a deployment before the system is feasible, he might invite suspicions that he did so to avoid Republican accusations that Mr. Gore is soft on defense.

The U.S.-Russia talks on amending the anti-ballistic missile treaty also militate against rushing to deploy. So far, the Russians aren't budging from their view that amending the treaty to permit deployment of a limited missile defense would stoke a new arms race. If the Russians stick to their position, the United States may have no choice but to abrogate the treaty. But such a decision should be left to the next president, not to one who is already planning his retirement.

With Russia's presidential and parliamentary elections scheduled for two months hence, Mr. Clinton should consider an immediate postponement. By postponing deployment before the Russian elections, Mr. Clinton would disarm Russian politicians who are trying to win votes by wrongly accusing the United States of trying to gain a strategic advantage over Russia.

Postponing deployment does not mean slowing or halting anti-missile research or tests. It simply means waiting to deploy until the technology is "technologically feasible," as a bipartisan majority in Congress insisted in May when it voted to enshrine the concept of a limited anti-missile defense in the nation's defense policy.

The prototype hit its target the first time. It missed on the second test. A third test - the last before Mr. Clinton's self-imposed deadline - is scheduled for June. Even if that one succeeds, the Pentagon will not have adequately demonstrated that the defense is reliable.

A commission headed by former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says that North Korea and Iran could have missiles capable of striking the United States by 2002. Therefore, haste is imperative. But nothing is gained by deploying an unreliable defense and wasting billions of dollars. Until the technology is perfected, the United States can preserve its security with its ultimate deterrent: the threat of nuclear retaliation.

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