Prague, 26 February 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Discussion in the press today addresses the complexities of EU-Russian relations, the meeting tomorrow between German and U.S. leaders, referring Iran's nuclear ambitions to the UN Security Council, the prevalence of double standards in Middle East policy, and the "four flaws" of U.S. President George W. Bush's security policy.
Writing in Britain's "Financial Times," columnist Quentin Peel says Russian President Vladimir Putin's decision to dismiss his cabinet this week was just the latest surprise from a political process that remains "obscure" and, at times, "illogical" to outside observers. But Peel says, nevertheless, it is "high time" the European Union formulated a "coherent policy" toward Moscow.
He writes: "The trouble is that Mr. Putin is playing old Cold War games of brinkmanship, refusing to extend the existing partnership agreement with the EU to include the new member states without concessions." As for the EU itself, "too many European leaders have been trying to forge special relationships with the Kremlin." Brussels lacks a unified policy toward Russia, an omission that "plays into the hands of those in Moscow who believe the best way to deal with the EU is to divide and rule."
There are several sources of Russian antipathy toward Europe. Criticisms over Kremlin policy in Chechnya; the EU and NATO's courtship of former Soviet satellites; and recent differences over Georgia's new leadership have all added fuel to Russian resentment. But Peel says the irony of all this bitterness is that EU enlargement "is good for Russia. It will make the Union more enthusiastic about engagement, boosting trade relations and cooperating on policies from energy to the environment, security and transport links."
But a real policy of engagement must be realistic about lingering differences, says Peel, particularly those pertaining to human rights, press freedom and the rule of law. "Putin's Russia is far from embracing the same standards as the EU," he says. "A sensible relationship will have to be built on recognizing that fact."
THE WASHINGTON TIMES
A "Washington Times" editorial says the upcoming 8 March meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency's (IAEA) board of governors to discuss Iran's nuclear ambitions will be "an important test" of the U.S. administration's willingness "to challenge efforts by Europe and the IAEA bureaucracy to delay what should be inevitable: referring the issue to the UN Security Council."
Evidence that Iran has been "cheating" has been mounting, the paper says. After reaching an agreement with Britain, France, and Germany last fall to submit to more rigorous inspections in exchange for help on civilian nuclear projects, "the world was jolted back to reality last month, when Iran brazenly announced it was building centrifuges." And in "the latest in a long series of new revelations, IAEA inspectors announced that they found traces of polonium, a radioactive substance which can help trigger a nuclear chain reaction -- another item which Iran failed to declare."
Iran has repeatedly failed "to be forthcoming with the IAEA," "The Washington Times" says. And it would be wrong to suggest Tehran is guilty of merely providing "incomplete" information. The problem "is a systematic campaign of lies," says the paper -- and it is time "for the issue to be referred to the Security Council for further action."
An editorial in France's leading daily says it is, of course, in the interests of Europe to have Russia as a democratic neighbor. But to confuse these hopes with reality would be a major policy mistake that would serve neither the aspirations of Russia toward the rule of law nor the evolution of Russian-EU relations.
French President Jacques Chirac succumbed to temptation this week in calling for Europe to show "a little more respect" for Russia. The paper says this declaration was all the more surprising in that it took place in Budapest, the capital of a nation that was itself not always shown much respect by Moscow.
But Chirac is not the only Western statesman to indulge Russia based on some “strange fascination” or mere strategic interests, says "Le Monde." U.S. President George W. Bush notably declared that he had seen into Putin's "soul" on their first meeting in Slovenia in 2001. Since then, however, such unmitigated goodwill has diminished in the face of a discouraging reality.
U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell just published a "severe" criticism of Kremlin policy in the Russian daily "Izvestia," focusing on human rights issues and dwindling democratic principles. This was a highly unusual step, the paper says. But the "arbitrary" arrest of Yukos oil chief Mikhail Khodorkovskii, the dubious conditions of the recent legislative elections, Moscow's interference in the affairs of its neighbors, and the continuing repression in Chechnya has cooled American enthusiasm.
There is an analytical error taking place when one accepts appearances for reality and autocracy for democracy, the paper says. But in this art of camouflage, the Russian president is unrivaled.
A "Financial Times" editorial says the United States and Germany must face the fact that their disagreement over going to war in Iraq "marked a turning point in their relations. For the first time in more than 50 years, Germany publicly and flatly opposed the U.S. on an important foreign policy issue."
Bilateral relations can be improved again only "if they learn the right lessons from their clash over Iraq," and if each appreciates the lasting benefits of a good relationship. When leaders from Washington and Berlin meet tomorrow in the U.S. capital, "they will have plenty of fence-mending to do."
U.S. security concerns have moved "beyond Europe," and Germany is "no longer in need of special protection" or hesitant to take part in peacekeeping operations abroad. But Washington must realize "that most Germans remain profoundly allergic to anything that smacks of unilateral military invasions."
However, the paper says, "armed with moral and political cover from multilateral institutions, Germany is proving remarkably ready to shoulder its share of the security burden," mainly in the Balkans and Afghanistan.
As for German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, his visit to Washington will provide him an opportunity "to rebalance a foreign policy that has fallen too much in thrall to France." The "budding trilateral relationship" between France, Germany, and Britain may also provide some needed stability.
"There can be no going back to the old U.S.-German ties," says the paper. "But there is still the basis for a solid relationship."
THE NEW YORK TIMES
Columnist Nicholas Kristof discusses the prevalence of double standards with regard to policy in the Middle East. He says one of the main reasons for anti-Americanism in the Mideast and Europe is the perception "that Americans are hypocrites for invading Iraq after Saddam Hussein violated United Nations resolutions, while donating billions of dollars to Israel as Prime Minister Ariel Sharon defies other UN resolutions."
Kristof says U.S. President George W. Bush "has been cozying up to Sharon, despite his incursions into the West Bank, his use of settlements to grab Palestinian lands and his barrier that cuts off Palestinian farmers from their farms." Kristof says, "Anyone who goes to Israel feels the gut fear of bombings that drives such policies, but anyone who goes to Gaza or the West Bank sees the humiliations that spawn bombings and a vicious cycle of violence."
But despite the obvious problems, Kristof says Arabs living in Israel have more democratic rights than they would living in any other Mideast nation. It would also be a double standard not to recognize this and to focus solely on Israeli repression. More importantly, much of the Arab world is outraged by every Israeli infraction, "but [seems] unmoved when Arabs abuse other Arabs."
The Arab world must hold Muslim leaders to the same standards of behavior it expects from Israeli and U.S. leaders, Kristof says. And yet this hypocrisy does not excuse the United States. America must address its own double standards, and speaking out against Israel's security barrier "would be a good place to start."
Writing in the "Financial Times," Wendy Sherman of the Albright Group and a former U.S. State Department official says Washington's security policy today is based on four false premises.
The first mistake, she says, is that America "must attack pre-emptively when there is a perceived threat." This policy not only promotes anxiety in the world, it also increases the likelihood that other states will similarly dismiss the need for international standards and rules of conduct.
The second flaw in U.S. policy is that international institutions are not needed for the conduct of national security policy. The United States, with its unprecedented military, economic and political strength, can lead security efforts -- but Sherman says the anti-American resentment it generates will make it less likely that other nations will share the burdens that these policies generate.
A third faulty premise used by the administration of President George W. Bush is that military power "is the foremost policy weapon" -- with political and economic power considered "second-rate" diplomatic tools.
And Sherman says the fourth misconception prevailing in Washington is to focus exclusively on terrorism, which "limits our ability to understand the rest of the world."
Sherman says the widespread solidarity with the United States that was generated by the 11 September 2001 attacks could have been used to "[galvanize] a worldwide effort to address poverty and disease, to support political reform in the Middle East, or to stop the development of weapons of mass destruction."
Instead, Bush "missed the opportunity."