Prague, 6 February 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Among the issues discussed in some of the major dailies today is freedom of movement within an expanded European Union, Pakistan's nuclear "bombshell," Iran's political standoff ahead of parliamentary elections, and NATO's grand ambitions -- which one author says may exceed its resources.
Writing in the regional daily "Eurasia View," Afghan-Iranian affairs analyst Camelia Entekhabi-Fard discusses Iran's ongoing political crisis over the disqualification of thousands of mainly reformist deputies from running in parliamentary elections later this month (20 February). Liberal parliamentarians have since vowed to boycott the elections, while Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has rejected calls to postpone the ballot, "effectively [dismissing] the reformists' contention that conservatives were rigging the parliamentary vote."
Entekhabi-Fard says some observers believe the standoff has spawned "an all-out struggle for control over Iran's political destiny." The government's reformist and conservative elements have often been at odds, but she says "[until] recently, the full extent of the tension was kept from public view, as the two camps relied on closed-door negotiations to mediate their often bitter differences concerning the nature and shape of Iran's political structure, which seeks to blend Islam with republican principles."
The current dispute "has forced the reformist-conservative confrontation into the open," she says. Some believe the conservatives are attempting to seize an opportunity, "amid widespread popular apathy regarding politics, to crush the reformists" once and for all and dispense with most of the republican aspects of the country, replacing them with a more Islamic-oriented system.
Reformist-minded President Mohammad Khatami has been criticized for being "ineffectual" with his requests that the banned candidates be reinstated, says Entekhabi-Fard. But Iran's reformers now appear to be "stiffening for what could prove a last stand."
A lead editorial in the British "Guardian" says the failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq "has undermined the credibility of the U.S. and Britain and their intelligence agencies." And yet, "a far more serious" weapons-related failure has now come to light. The man credited with building Pakistan's first nuclear bomb, Abdul Qadeer Khan, admitted this week to sharing nuclear know-how with North Korea, Iran, and Libya in a move the "Guardian" says was "in defiance of law, common sense and morality."
But Khan did not act alone, and this is important to realize, says the paper. Khan publicly admitted to sharing nuclear secrets but absolved the Pakistani government from any involvement in the affair. And yet his declaration raises "a host of questions about the role of Pakistan's military and civilian leaders and intelligence agencies."
Perhaps the suspected links between elements of the Pakistani security establishment and Al-Qaeda will have to readdressed, says the "Guardian." And Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf "is not wholly above suspicion himself."
The paper says, "Rogue states everywhere will watch with interest how Washington reacts to this scandal." If Musharraf is being honest when he says he had no idea of Khan's activities, "then he and his government are open to charges of stupefying incompetence in safeguarding Pakistan's nuclear arsenal."
But Pakistan's failure in this matter "is an international failure too." The paper asks, "Where was the intelligence that should have exposed this incredibly dangerous nukes-for-cash racket?"
It seems world leaders were preoccupied with Iraq, to the exclusion of other pressing issues, says the paper. The governments in Washington and London "were simply looking the wrong way."
WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE:
Philip Shishkin of "The Wall Street Journal Europe" discusses NATO's rising ambitions and says ideas for expanding the alliance's presence in Afghanistan and Iraq may exceed its abilities.
The NATO presence in Afghanistan is "one of the most ambitious missions in the alliance's history," he says. And yet its "political commitment" to the country often exceeds its ability to furnish personnel and equipment. The 5,000-strong NATO force in Kabul will eventually be joined by Provincial Reconstruction Teams that will secure areas beyond the capital. And yet "plans for deploying the new NATO teams remain vague," says Shishkin.
Countries such as Italy and Norway have indicated their willingness to contribute troops and other personnel, "but no clear commitments exist yet." According to Italy's NATO ambassador, Maurizio Moreno, the problem remains "assets and resources."
While most European countries seem willing to support greater NATO involvement in Iraq, lingering difficulties in Afghanistan "could in turn delay any NATO foray in Iraq because the alliance is wary of embarking on another major operation before getting its Afghan mission on track."
NATO credibility is on the line in Afghanistan, Shishkin says. The alliance has welcomed Germany's decision to deploy troops to relatively stable areas of northern Afghanistan, but some alliance officials complain that member countries remain wary of sending soldiers to the more volatile areas in need of a stabilization force.
As one unnamed NATO official put it, "Nobody wants to go to the most dangerous parts."
An item in "Eurasia View" looks at the findings of a report by a nonpartisan, Washington, D.C.-based think tank that says the United States must reassess its strategic presence in Eurasia.
The Institute for Foreign Policy Analysis (IFPA) says Washington must shift its focus in the region away from the Caspian's energy potential and focus more on security threats in Central Asia. The report "bluntly" states that while the U.S. administration looks to diversify its energy sources with reserves from the region, the security situation has been steadily deteriorating. Systemic declines in the political, economic and social sectors, coupled with the actions of what the report calls "deeply corrupt regimes," have led to widespread poverty. And as the report states, the "combination of economic hardship and political repression provides ample breeding ground for extremist Islamic movements."
The IFPA goes so far as to warn that Washington's post-11 September strategic alliance with Uzbekistan is undermining U.S. security interests. Such partnerships with authoritarian regimes degrade "[regional] perceptions of the United States as a liberal-minded and benevolent superpower, potentially lending credence to Islamic extremist characterizations of the United States as a cynical, self-serving power," the report says.
It recommends that a better way to foster stability in Central Asia would be to promote the development of civil society and increase cooperation with neighboring countries, particularly Kazakhstan, and to more robustly engage regional superpowers Russia and China. Thus far, U.S. diplomats have relied on quiet pressure to persuade regional leaders to implement reforms -- and these requests have been "largely ignored," the paper says.
The London-based "Independent" takes British Prime Minister Tony Blair to task over wavering on the issue of labor migration in an expanded EU. Apparently, Britain has decided not to adopt "a liberal and good-European policy" toward migrating laborers, the paper says. Instead, British good intentions "collapsed at the first prod from the xenophobes."
This week, Blair acknowledged there was "a risk" that people from the new accession countries might arrive in Britain looking for better economic opportunities. But the "Independent" says: "That is not a risk, Mr. Blair, it is an opportunity." The paper points out that the British National Health Service is "currently scouring Central Europe for doctors and nurses to make a reality of [Blair's] promises of a world-class health service." Moreover, "[the] service economy of the whole of southeast England and especially London, [is] heavily dependent on immigrant workers."
European immigration is not a matter of people coming to Britain to take jobs from the British, the editorial says -- the issue is "promoting the prosperity of the whole nation and that of [our] fellow Europeans."
But Blair "willfully [accepted]" the arguments of conservative members of government and "xenophobic sections of the press." And he erred in seeking to appease them, the "Independent" says. "There is no point in trying to persuade xenophobes that Britain can both be a member of the European Union and seek to run an autarchic economic policy that denies all jobs and rights to people who are not British."
In a parting shot, the paper writes: "For all [Blair's] blazing confidence on Iraq, he seems remarkably weak when it comes to values worth standing up for closer to home."
Afghanistan, Iraq, and the Balkans will be the principle focus of discussion at a meeting of NATO defense ministers beginning today in Munich.
Laurent Zecchini of "Le Monde" says that while Washington wants to see a greater NATO role in Iraq, Afghanistan remains the priority for the alliance. European forces are heavily represented in the Afghan International Security and Assistance Force, and their presence is set to increase, Zecchini says. Discussions are now under way for a European Union force to take over the reins from NATO this summer, an idea proposed this week by French President Jacques Chirac to the alliance's secretary-general, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer.
Europe's assuming control of most Afghan operations is supported by Washington and would also offer several advantages in the eyes of Europeans, Zecchini says. First and foremost, it would underscore the credibility of European defense initiatives. Such an operation would show that Europeans are not content only to take on missions with limited risk in areas directly related to their strategic interests, such as the Balkans. The willingness of European defense to intervene, like the Atlantic alliance, wherever it is needed would thus be affirmed.
But at the Munich summit (6-8 February), de Hoop Scheffer is expected to remind NATO member countries that their desire to stabilize Afghanistan is meaningless if it is not backed up with material troop engagements and logistical resources.
FRANKFURTER ALLGEMEINE ZEITUNG:
Writing in the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung," Michael Gavin says German law enforcement officials "reacted bitterly" to the acquittal yesterday of Abdelghani Mzoudi, charged with more than 3,000 counts of abetting murder in connection with the 11 September 2001 attacks in the United States.
Mzoudi's case "appeared central to their effort to root out any remaining elements of the German-based Islamist terrorist network responsible for carrying out [the] attacks," says Gavin.
The prosecution says it plans to appeal, and federal prosecutor Walter Hemberger "[stopped] just short of saying the Hamburg court got it wrong [when] it found Mzoudi not guilty."
Presiding Judge Klaus Ruehle ruled that information provided by U.S. officials, allegedly based on the interrogations of other suspected plotters, had "seriously weakened the prosecution case."
Gavin says there was "little surprise" when the court announced there was insufficient evidence to convict Mzoudi on the charge that he transferred funds to suspected hijacker Mohammed Atta and others in Hamburg, or that he had helped plan the attacks. "But there was disappointment," says Gavin.