Mideast: Calm but Tough

Uncle Sam has an attention problem on the Mideast. In two decades since the Iran-Iraq War broke out, Washington has sporadically shown intense interest (i.e., the Gulf War and last February's big military buildup). But then attention wanders to other major matters.

The same can be said of American pressure for Israeli-Arab peace. Intense at Camp David, during Israel's Lebanon invasion, and the Palestinian's "intifada." Then routine nudging until, as in the recent Wye pressure cooker, resolve bursts forth again.

US leadership on the crucial issues of (1) the spread of super-weapons, and (2) protection of major oil flows is once more under test.

The Clinton Administration should not blink on either. On Iraq, it has the outspoken support of Britain's Prime Minister Blair and Germany's new Chancellor Schrder. It has the backing of a unanimous UN Security Council vote (including Russia and France, sometime enablers for Baghdad).

Preventing the development and use of missiles tipped with biological or chemical super-poisons is too important a task to be allowed to simmer away. The US and Europe may, alas, have to threaten tough action to enforce a return of UN inspections. But Washington must also become more specific about how sanctions will end when the inspection process is complete and well tripwired to protect sensor monitoring.

Nor should the US let its recent intensity lapse on the other Mideast front. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu is already testing Clinton resolve by planning new housing projects on disputed land. That also deserves a tough stand in Washington.

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