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Western Press Review: Russian-U.S. Cooperation, An EU Constitution, And Iran's Nuclear Program

  • Khatya Chhor

Prague, 22 June 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Among the topics of interest in the press today are establishing better Russian-U.S. security cooperation in Eurasia and beyond, the potential dangers of Iran's nuclear program, the agreement on an EU constitution, and the countdown to the handover of sovereignty in Iraq on 30 June.

INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE

The Paris-based daily carries a joint contribution today by Ian Bremmer of the Eurasia Group and the World Policy Institute, and Nikolas Gvosdev of "The National Interest," a quarterly journal on international affairs.

The authors say that for all the official protestations that Moscow and Washington are now allies, each remains suspicious of the other's motives. Two years ago, the NATO-Russia Council was formed to redefine security cooperation between the Kremlin and the West. Nevertheless, many Russians continue to view NATO as a threat to their security or suspect that NATO's real aim is Russian containment.

Gvosdev and Bremmer say that as long as NATO-Russia cooperation remains only "a matter of declarations and consultations," the opportunity to redefine the security framework of both the Euro-Atlantic region and Eurasia is being squandered.

Eurasia is vulnerable to what they call the "real threats" of terrorism, organized crime -- including drugs and arms smuggling -- and the dangers posed by unstable regimes.

"NATO's primary purpose is to provide security." And if the United States truly wants to establish security across Eurasia, "NATO cannot be seen as a lever to keep Russia on the sidelines."

The time for "Great Game" superpower rivalries in the region is over, say the authors. "There is nothing further to be gained by continuing to compete with Russia."

The reality today is that Moscow "has sufficient economic and strategic leverage to frustrate further Western plans for the region if Russian interests are not taken into consideration." Russia will play "a critical role in the Caucasus and Central Asia irrespective of American intent." Thus, cooperation with Russia "is the only way forward."

The authors suggest the development of joint projects and institutions founded on the NATO-Russia Council to meet the shared security challenges of today's world.

THE CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR

After two years of wrangling over issues large and small, the agreement on 18-19 June on an EU constitutional text "was nothing short of historic," says this secular news daily. For the first time, Europe "will have a full-time president, a foreign minister, and most importantly, a single foundation to replace the amalgam of treaties on which the EU is built."

But Europe's leaders now face a skeptical public, as each of the 25 member states must ratify the text for it to come into effect. "Record low turnout for the European parliamentary elections earlier this month [10-13 June], as well as a boost for the anti-Europe parties, indicate that Euro-unifiers have a difficult selling job to do."

The new constitutional text provides for member countries to maintain their sovereignty, "but it could be viewed as tipping the balance from nationalism to Europeanism." And even "when the benefits of coming closer together seemed obvious, such as the 1995 elimination of internal border controls or the 1992 single currency, Europeans always needed convincing."

And to make their case, "Europe's leaders will have to negate certain myths" that have cropped up about what membership in the EU really means. In Britain, for example, some mistakenly believe that the constitution would eliminate Britain's seat on the UN Security Council. But misperceptions aside, politicians will have to convince their respective publics that the constitution is the desirable and logical next step toward European unity.

THE TIMES

Columnist Michael Gove calls the new EU constitution "another step in the surrender of powers from accountable national parliaments to unaccountable EU institutions." The document "strips nation states of powers and pushes them further away from the reach of national voters." And it "goes further than ever before in stripping the British people of the right to govern themselves."

Gove says that it would have been reasonable to assume, "given how much power is being transferred to the unaccountable, transnational, realm of European institutions[,] that some powers might be devolved back down to national parliaments."

But he says "the constitution doesn't return a single power to legislate back to national parliaments. The direction of EU political development is all one way -- away from the people."

The EU constitution does, however, allow national parliaments to communicate their concerns about EU legislation. "But they can do no more than lodge an empty complaint," Gove says. "If one-third of all EU parliaments object, within a fixed six-month period, to a single law[,] then the EU promises to take note of their concerns."

But then, "having taken note, those manning the EU institutions can press ahead regardless."

THE NEW YORK TIMES

"If international treaties to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons have any power, now is the time to flex it on Iran," says an editorial in "The New York Times." The United States, EU, Russia, and China issued a joint condemnation last week of Iran's refusal to explain how it obtained the plans and equipment for making nuclear bomb fuel. But this multilateral condemnation "must be followed up with concerted pressure to keep Iran from joining the growing list of states armed with nuclear weapons."

Tehran "has been defying the spirit, and probably the letter, of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty," and may be able to begin making bombs in two to five years, the paper says. Moreover, it has been "concealing suspicious nuclear activities" from the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) "since at least 1985," by "insisting it was only interested in low-enriched uranium for power reactors."

In an agreement last fall, Tehran promised Paris, Berlin, and London that it would end its uranium-enrichment activities and increase cooperation with the IAEA. But since Iran's reformists provided this new hope for increased dialogue, its conservative clerics "have crushed the reformers, taken over Parliament and hardened Iranian policies."

The paper says, "In light of this new belligerence and Iran's failure to cooperate with the IAEA, Europe should overcome its qualms about referring the Iranian nuclear issue to the United Nations Security Council." The Security Council "is designed to deal with threats to international peace and security. A potential Iranian breakout from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty clearly qualifies," and should be dealt with through multilateral "determination and firmness."

THE INDEPENDENT

The paper's Patrick Cockburn discusses the upcoming 30 June transfer of power from the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) to the interim Iraq government in Baghdad. "In just over a week, the CPA will disappear, [and few] will regret its passing," Cockburn says.

"Most of the changes will be cosmetic," Cockburn says. "The new Iraqi government will have only limited power." The chances that it will prove successful are limited, he adds, given that it will rely on U.S. troops for security, lacking an effective armed force of its own. And due to the frequent sabotaging of its oil production facilities, Iraq will also largely rely on U.S. money.

The U.S. administration's priority is to find a quick remedy for Iraq before the 2 November presidential elections in the United States. And "[the] main instrument to achieve this is to pretend that an independent Iraq is being created which can fight its own wars."

But this is simply not the case, he says. "The base of the new government is very small. Its leading figures are former exiles. They have not been elected. They do not have the legitimacy necessary to establish security forces capable of re-establishing order."

The interim government "will have popular Iraqi support to the extent that it opposes the U.S.," says Cockburn, as resistance to the U.S. occupation is increasing among the Iraqi population. But ultimately, the new Iraqi leadership "relies on the U.S. for soldiers and money and must do what Washington wants."

FINANCIAL TIMES

"The World Bank's governing board will shortly have to decide whether oil, gas and mining industries in poor countries do more harm than good," says an editorial in London's financial daily. The independent Extractive Industries Review has suggested the bank's work in such industries undermines its attempts to alleviate global poverty. For certain, the paper says, the bank "needs to do more to make its case that such industries can be made to work effectively and durably for the poor."

It is tough to make the case that such extractive industries "have systematically helped relieve poverty in countries that do not already have somewhat successful economies and the rule of law." There are very few examples of countries that have pulled themselves "out of dire poverty principally using oil, gas or mining. More often, extractive industries distort the political as well as the economic life of poor nations, encouraging the growth of a predatory elite fighting over revenues rather than the healthy competition of a diversified market economy.

"It is hard to look at corruption-racked countries such as Nigeria without concluding they might be better off never having discovered oil," says the paper.

So the World Bank "needs to be cautious in getting involved." While the bank's projects "in relatively well-run economies that would go ahead anyway are improved by its environmental and governance rules, it should be very careful about corruption-riddled countries where its involvement is the tipping factor making the project viable."
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