The Times, London, Feb. 9: Great talent makes awe unavoidable. Yesterday in Falmouth, hundreds appeared at the quay to cheer the return of Ellen MacArthur, who has decisively beaten the record for non-stop solo sailing around the world by one day, eight hours, 35 minutes and 49 seconds. Ah, sailing.
After 71 days at sea ... she showed the raw grace of an athlete and the composure of a true professional.
It is ... easy to forget that MacArthur is an example not just for fledgeling sailors, but also fledgeling anyones. She faced wind and waves that were epic. She burnt her arm on a generator. She had to climb the mast to repair damage, twice. She narrowly avoided collision with a whale (not a creature to annoy).
Some have griped about her griping -- she described setbacks in telephone calls and multiple e-mails -- but detailing her progress, as well as the lack of it, MacArthur displayed that most important of personal traits: intellectual honesty. She sees things as they are, not as she wishes them to be or as she calculates that we might like to hear.
Even more vital, MacArthur is obsessed. In a bendy yoga world, steel will and laser focus are not the fashion; "balance" is. But this yachtswoman seems always prepared to risk imbalance. You do not take a trip on a 25-metre multihull with a tendency to flip over at speed if you are not. MacArthur named parts of her boat and spoke to them. She slept an average four hours a day in punishing 30- minute shifts. And since Nov. 27, every one of her thoughts and actions has been geared to getting one thing: that record. When she crossed the finish, her comment was: "It's great that I can finally switch my brain off."
Sueddeutsche Zeitung, Munich, Feb. 7: There is plenty to suggest that Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov must be longing to have Colin Powell back after this weekend.
The Russian met in Ankara with his new colleague from Washington, Condoleezza Rice, and -- despite the "open and friendly atmosphere" that Lavrov routinely speaks of -- she brought up a whole series of unpleasant points: the Yukos affair, press freedom and the dubious state of Russian democracy in general.
If there were any doubts, they have now been dispelled -- President George W. Bush is not sparing Russia in the missionary campaign for democracy that he is determined to conduct in his second term.
Alliance's future
Bush's meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Bratislava Feb. 24 ... promises to be interesting. The two presidents will have to clarify how much or little remains of their alliance within the anti-terror alliance.
In Ankara, Rice set the tone: the United States is not prepared to be silent about things it doesn't like in the interests of a "strategic partnership" that is in any case vague.
Bush and Rice distrust Putin, and they are now making little secret of it.
Egyptian Gazette, Cairo, Feb. 8: The world's sights today shift to Egypt where the first summit meeting between Palestinian and Israeli leaders in years is held. When Egypt made the invitation to host the parley, the world reacted with applause, hoping that the summit, at the resort town of Sharm el-Sheik, will infuse life into the regional peace process.
The summit coincides with a renewed American commitment to reviving Middle East peacemaking. U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is currently on her first tour in the Middle East since taking the job. President George W. Bush and senior officials in his administration have pledged tangible support for helping Palestinian and Israeli leaders make peace. This marks a reversal of the U.S. aloofness of Bush's first term. The United States is ready to monitor a Palestinian-Israeli cease-fire likely to be announced in today's conference.
Confidence-building measures
In the lead-up to Sharm el-Sheik, Israel unveiled a host of confidence-building measures, including the release of some prisoners and handover of five West Bank towns. These measures have to be expanded.
Stavanger Aftenblad, Feb. 9: Israel and the Palestinians declaring a cease-fire does not mean that there will be peace in the Middle East.
There is still a long way to go for solutions to all the difficult problems between the parties, and much can go wrong along the way. Even if weapons are laid down, they will remain easily accessible.
Just the same, there is more reason for optimism than for a very long time, because both sides seem determined to succeed this time. For the Palestinians, the conflict has been so destructive that the need for peace is obvious. But it must also be wearing for the Israelis to live on a war footing for so long.
New opportunity
The political shift among the Palestinians after Arafat's death created a clear new opportunity. Now the parties have to use the chance well, with the United States and Europe contributing with pressure and money.
Dagens Nyheter, Stockholm, Feb. 9: A peace treaty is hardly expected soon. The difficult issues -- those about the right of the refugees to return, about Jerusalem's status and about the settlements -- are being postponed. And these are issues that have led to many collapsed negotiation efforts. What's so remarkable is that Sharon and Abbas met, that there is a mutual will to break the spiral of violence.
Evidently, the main responsibility lies with the parties. But the world has a central role, not the least of which is the United States.
New activity
The recent visit in the region by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was proof as good as any of a new activity on the part of the Bush administration. And that is an activity that is needed.