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Western Press Review: Iran's Election Crisis, Deteriorating Security In Afghanistan, And EU Immigration

  • Khatya Chhor

Prague, 30 January 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Analysis and commentary in the media today focuses on the political wrangling in Iran, as the conservative Guardians Council is expected to release today a final list of candidates allowed to run in February's parliamentary elections. Deteriorating security in Afghanistan is also addressed, as is UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's admonishment of the European Union for its immigration policies, and what to do with the millions of documents that make up the archives of Iraq's ousted Ba'athist regime.


Middle Eastern affairs analyst Ali Ansari of the University of Exeter says the conservative Guardians Council decision to bar more than 3,000 reformist candidates from running in Iran's parliamentary elections was greeted by "varying degrees of indifference."

Iranians are now accustomed to interventions by the council's unelected mullahs, Ansari says in the "Financial Times." "Compromise, rather than confrontation, has been the hallmark of reformist strategy over the past four years, so few Iranians expect the current situation to be resolved any differently. No one will rush to risk life and liberty" in demonstrations in support of the reformers "simply to discover that another hastily arranged compromise has resulted in yet more of the same."

The "halcyon days of the reform movement, with its promise of imminent democratization, seem a distant memory to most Iranians," he says.
Nevertheless, Ansari says this "justified caution should not be misinterpreted as apathy." Many in Iran would support "a more uncompromising approach to what they see as hard-line bullying." With "the courage of their convictions," reformist politicians could "reawaken and mobilize the Iranian public."

But this confrontation differs from those in the past, for even some conservatives -- such as Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and former President Hashemi Rafsanjani -- are beginning to find the mullahs intractable. "Political battle lines are being redrawn," Ansari says. "It is no longer 'reformists' against 'conservatives,' but those who espouse change against those determined to oppose it; those who understand the value of popular legitimacy and accountability against those who shun it; those who idealize tradition against those who understand the challenges of modernity."


An editorial in "The Times" of London says recent attacks on troops from the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan is proof of the "growing threat from the regrouped Taliban, working with warlords, drug cartels and Pashtun nationalists to challenge [Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid] Karzai and overturn the Western-backed government in Kabul."

Two years after the overthrow of the "medieval tyranny" of the Taliban, the paper says, "[security] is deteriorating, tension is high, reconstruction has slowed, foreign aid workers are under threat and international efforts to rescue the benighted country from chaos and destitution have come to a standstill."

The "preoccupation with Iraq has deflected attention from the worsening situation [in] Kabul. Troops and money, promised as a guarantee that Afghanistan would not be abandoned again, have been diverted. Politicians and army commanders worry about the security in Iraq's Sunni triangle and tend to overlook the growing number of attacks" in Afghanistan. Many of the projects now in the works have been stalled by the deteriorating security situation -- "girls' schools have been closed or firebombed, reconstruction halted and political stabilization jeopardized by wrangling and warlord insurgency."

Despite a much-lauded decision to expand the NATO-led security force outside the capital, no progress has been made on that front. NATO's credibility is now at stake; moreover, unless ISAF is deployed beyond Kabul, "the Taliban will be emboldened," says "The Times." "Money and aid, though needed, are of little use without security. Afghanistan may seem further away than Iraq; it is no less central to the campaign against terrorism."


An editorial in "The Irish Times" says UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan was right to criticize member states of the EU for their immigration policies in a speech yesterday to the European Parliament. Annan said immigrants are "part of the solution, not part of the problem" and emphasized that they must not be made a scapegoat for social ills as they adjust to their new host countries.

The Irish daily calls Annan's speech a "refreshingly candid message from a genuine friend of the enlarging European Union." His words come as several EU member states restrict immigration from the new members set to join in May. But the paper says, "there is little evidence" of a trend toward cross-border migration within the EU.

Instead, it is people in neighboring regions beyond the EU's borders that seek to live and work in the union. And Europe's falling birthrate "will ensure they are needed if the EU is to fulfill its ambitions to remain a competitive region in a more globalized world."

Annan's speech comes as "a sharp and timely reminder that migration is an abiding and necessary part of [Europe's] relations with the rest of the world."


"The Washington Post" in an editorial today considers the eventual fate of the "hundreds of millions of pieces of paper" that make up the archives left over from Iraq's Ba'athist regime.

U.S.-led coalition forces captured roughly 80 percent of the documents from Saddam Hussein's reign and relocated them to "an undisclosed location outside Iraq." Yet there are still no final plans for what should be done with these relics of Iraq's political history, or whether the decision will be made "by Washington or Baghdad, by the CIA [Central Intelligence Agency] or the Pentagon."

The numerous files contain the names of the Ba'athist regime's victims and torturers, "and could therefore play a role in revenge killings and [blackmail]. More important, they will also eventually provide the first real history of the regime. They should therefore form the centerpiece of the trial of Saddam Hussein." The ultimate fate of these documents "is critical to the future stability of Iraq."

The paper warns that as "long as the documents are solely under U.S. control, they will serve as a focus for rumors and conspiracy theories. As long as there is no general law governing the use of such documents, there will continue to be arguments in Iraq over who has the right to control them." The paper says what is needed is "a clear set of rules governing the storage and use of the documents, which must be returned to Iraq and placed under Iraqi control as soon as possible."


Writing in the British daily "The Guardian," Dan De Luce looks at how the Iranian press has been handling the continuing standoff between the hard-line Guardians Council and reformist parliamentarians. The decision to bar thousands of reformist candidates from elections next month prompted dozens of legislators to take part in a sit-in at parliament, which is now in its third week. Though slow to respond initially, pro-reform students have since joined the protest, which De Luce says is slowly "spreading across the country."

State television has continued to "ignore or belittle the sit-in," while both reformist and conservative papers have carried on a "spirited debate [about] the meaning and nature of the crisis."

De Luce says the conservative "Jomhuri Islami" and similar newspapers have dismissed the demonstrating deputies as extremists, who are "acting on behalf of foreign enemies seeking to overthrow the theocratic establishment."

As the hard-line Guardians Council readies itself to deliver a final decision today on the much-disputed list of candidates for next month's elections, the liberal daily "Mardomsalari" warns that the legacy of the 1979 revolution and the Iranian theocracy's legitimacy are at stake. The paper warns that the strategy pursued by the conservatives contradicts the very essence of Iran's Islamic revolution.


An item in France's "Le Figaro" says Ankara and Washington have mended their rift with the visit of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to the White House the week. Relations between the two NATO allies soured after Turkey refused to let U.S. forces use its territory to launch an invasion of Iraq last spring.

Erdogan was also successful in his diplomatic offensive aimed at convincing the United States of his sincerity in seeking a solution to the Cyprus question. However, he did not manage to convince Washington to play an intermediary role in the negotiations, which remain under the auspices of the United Nations.

Ankara wants a general outline to be drawn up for the reunification of Cyprus, rather than to continue discussions on the very detailed plan drawn up by the UN secretary-general. The absence of a compromise on this point will limit Ankara's chances in its negotiations on entry conditions with the European Union.

U.S. President George W. Bush was pleased to find Erdogan supporting the idea of Cypriot reunification, and hastened to reassure him that all measures would be taken to ensure Iraq's territorial integrity. Ankara has long been concerned that more autonomy for Iraq's Kurds will spur separatist impulses within Turkey's own sizeable Kurdish minority. With both leaders so willing to reassure one another on their respective issues of concern, "Le Figaro" says Turkish-U.S. reconciliation has now been sealed.


An editorial in "The Wall Street Journal Europe" says the Poles are "furious" at the United States for subjecting them to new visa restrictions that require a $100 nonrefundable deposit or being fingerprinted at the border. What is worse, the paper says, is that French citizens and other Europeans are not subject to the same restrictions.

President Aleksander Kwasniewski "went to Washington this week pledging to get his friend George W. Bush to revoke the requirement. He failed." Bush explained that Congress only allows waivers to the new restrictions for countries from which less than 3 percent of applications are rejected. Thirty percent of Polish applicants are commonly turned down.

But no one believes that Al-Qaeda is active in Krakow, the paper says. Poland is "the closest U.S. ally in continental Europe," having sent "2,400 troops to keep peace in Iraq." And yet, "perversely, the U.S. risks undermining the relationship for trivial, bureaucratic reasons. Poles today are able to travel freely throughout Europe, and can't understand why America isn't as welcoming."

The paper asks, "If visas are meant to keep America safe, why on Earth are they imposed on Poland?"