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Highlights from the world's press

Compiled by Ravi Agrawal for CNN
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(CNN) -- The New York Times says Washington could put greater pressure on Iran and continue efforts to disarm Hezbollah by dropping its resistance to high level talks with Syria.

"Diplomacy is not simply a matter of rewarding countries that act the way Washington likes. It can also be a useful tool for trying to induce countries like Syria to behave more constructively. With Iran now asserting that it has achieved international acceptance as a nuclear state and Syria's Lebanese allies again challenging the Beirut government, it is time to give direct diplomacy with Syria a serious try.

Chipping away at Lebanon's sovereignty or Israel's security to win Syria's good will would, of course, be a disastrous mistake. But without crossing those red lines it might be possible for Washington to wean Damascus away from its alliance of convenience with Tehran. Syria and Iran are not natural or inevitable allies. Washington's clumsy attempts to ostracize both regimes have managed to tighten their mutual embrace."

The UK's Daily Telegraph says Washington and London are now retreating from their declared position to be principled and unflinching on their Middle East policies.

"Even on the optimistic assumption that Iran (and Syria) would be prepared to give the undertakings on nuclear development and international terrorism which President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair say they would demand in return, it seems wildly unlikely that the involvement of these countries could achieve any lasting stability. Syria is led by a Baathist Sunni regime that is quite inimical to Iran's Shia government. Neither country is interested in seeing a long term resolution to the Palestinian problem. The Blair-Baker proposition looks more like an exercise in appeasement than a positive alternative strategy."

And on a related note, two days after Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert met US President Bush in Washington for talks, The Jerusalem Post says Israel's position in the Middle East has weakened lately.

"Israel might find itself in a weaker position than last July. Its deterrent has eroded sufficiently to potentially encourage Syria to enter the fray, Hizbullah has boosted its firepower and foreign forces on the frontier are seeking to impede Israel's freedom of action... Olmert was right when he said that if Israel had not acted this summer, the world would have done nothing. Israel's campaign, such as it was, proved the catalyst for international involvement. The situation is not very different four months after. In fact, it may be considerably more urgent."

Sharing the planet with America

The Boston Globe says British Prime Minister Tony Blair has been "slipping downward in popularity in step with President George W. Bush" while taking blame for attaching himself too closely to America in the Iraqi quagmire.

"Now that Bush has all but announced his surrender of Iraq policy to [James] Baker and the Iraq Study Group, the first casualty may be the old axis-of-evil approach whereby you don't speak to your adversaries... From what has already been leaked from the Iraq Study Group, Baker and company seem to know their own minds. There may well be some yes answers we Americans could give Syria and Iran in regard to their own security needs and fears, and no one any longer believes that time is on our side in Iraq... Perhaps Blair's moment has come to have some real influence over American policy, which he never had when Cheney and Rumsfeld were firmly in charge."

The New Yorker says the Iraq Study Group may have the cache to change the course in Iraq.

"The group's report, expected in the New Year, will offer the outlines of a different course in Iraq-an offer the President may be unable to refuse. At the Pentagon, Rumsfeld yields to Gates; in the Oval Office, adolescent rebellion gives way to sullen acquiescence... It has been obvious for some time that, as President of the United States, George W. Bush is in very far over his head. He does not know how to use power wisely. He will now have a Democratic Congress to restrain him, and, perhaps, to protect him-and us-from his unfettered impulses. This may not be the Thanksgiving he was looking forward to, but the rest of us have reason to be grateful."

Troubled waters

Prominent medical journal The Lancet says that while the recent Stern report on the ramifications of climate change ends on a positive note by suggesting immediate action could limit long-term environmental damage, it misses one very important point.

"The Stern review on the economic cost of climate change cites a World Health Organization estimate that during the past 50 years, climate change has caused an extra 150,000 deaths a year, mainly due to diarrhea, malaria and malnutrition... But it is certain that this mortality burden will not be equally distributed around the world. Climate change will amplify disparities between rich and poor countries. Resolving these disparities is therefore where preventive efforts must be concentrated."

Meanwhile the International Herald Tribune has more more gloomy environment news via the journal Science. The report asserts that the progressive unraveling of entire marine ecosystems up and down the food chain could lead to the "collapse" of all commercial species, possibly by the middle of this century.

"The study says that the situation is not hopeless, but only if the world moves quickly to reduce overfishing and other threats. Two opportunities for change lie immediately at hand. One is a proposal now before the United Nations that would end unregulated bottom trawling on the high seas... The second is the pending reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Act regulating fishing practices in U.S. waters. The Senate has approved a bill that strengthens the act in important ways. It should be an early order of business for the new Congress."

Adding to the climate change debate, The Guardian issues a scathing rebuttal to a report in the The Sunday Telegraph which says the "climate change scare" is a tale "worthier of St John the Divine than of science".

"The warming effects of carbon dioxide, Lord Monckton claims, have been exaggerated, distorted and made up altogether. One example of the outrageous fraud the U.N. body has committed is the elimination from its temperature graphs of the 'medieval warm period', which, he claims, was 'real, global and up to 3C warmer than now'. He runs two graphs side by side, one of which shows the temperature record over the past 1,000 years as rendered by the U.N. panel, and the other purporting to show real temperatures over the same period... A scientific paper is one published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal. This means it has been subject to scrutiny by other experts in the field. This doesn't suggest that it's the last word on the subject, but it does mean it is worth discussing. For newspapers such as the Sunday Telegraph the test seems to be much simpler. If they don't understand it, it must be science."

Bond is back

With the new James Bond flick "Casino Royale" premiering around the world this week, in London the Times says the author of the series, Ian Fleming, would have raised a "world-weary eyebrow" at the film, and 007's latest avatar Daniel Craig.

"At least, however, Casino Royale takes Bond back to his beginnings. And Craig makes a better incarnation than David Niven, who starred in the woeful spoof of Fleming's first adventure with the wildly inappropriate supporting cast of Woody Allen and Peter Sellers (till he quit). There's a problem for Craig however: all the original books have now been filmed. Purists will not accept any more non-Fleming plots. So it will have to be remakes. Dr. No as an Iranian ayatollah? A reincarnated Robert Maxwell as Goldfinger? Dame Eliza Manningham-Buller in On Her Majesty's Secret Service? Now, that has real street credibility."


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Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The New York Times says it's time to give diplomacy a try.

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