Prague, 23 June 2004 (RFE/RL) – One of the topics at issue in the press today is trans-Atlantic relations and the divide within Europe over how the European Union should conduct its relations with the United States. Events in Iraq one week before the official handover of power to an interim administration in Baghdad are also discussed, as are Iran's nuclear "brinkmanship" and the war in Chechnya, as an attack in neighboring Ingushetia sparks fears that the separatist conflict may be widening.
INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE
A contribution by Reginald Dale of the "European Affairs" policy quarterly says the European Union summit on 17-19 June finally approved a first European constitution following last-minute, all-night negotiations. But the talks also revealed a deep division between those EU member states that want closer European integration to allow Brussels to oppose U.S. foreign policy, and those who want looser integration and a continued close alliance with the United States.
On one side of the divide, France, Germany, and a few other European countries -- dubbed "Old Europe" by some -- opposed the war in Iraq and want a more integrated EU to be able to act as a counterweight to the United States. The others, led by Britain, imagine "a loosely integrated, free-market European Union as a partner for the United States in an American-led 'unipolar' world."
Disagreement also arose over the determination of some EU members to "no longer to accept diktats from Paris and Berlin without prior consultation." France has already seen "its traditional control over the Union endangered by an influx of generally pro-American countries" from the former Soviet bloc "that owe no special allegiance to Paris."
The current U.S. administration, for its part, "prefers a Europe of nation states, from which it can 'cherry pick' allies, to a Europe integrated under French-German leadership." But Dale says it would be more farsighted "to encourage the development of a united Europe as a partner in the dangerous conflicts of the 21st century."
He says this can best be done by welcoming Germany "back into the Atlantic fold and depriving France of the support it needs to dominate Europe" through the diplomatic isolation of Paris.
THE IRISH TIMES
"Contradictory signals" yesterday coming from the Iranian authorities about the British sailors arrested for allegedly violating Iranian sea boundaries "give an insight into conflicting currents within Iran's governing regime," says an editorial in the Dublin-based daily. The conservative Revolutionary Guards said the eight sailors would face prosecution, while sources in the Iranian Foreign Ministry said they would be released if it were shown they did not intend to violate Iranian borders.
The paper says the conflicting statements underscore the ongoing struggle "between elements wanting to reinforce Iranian isolation and sovereignty, [and] those who prefer to improve relations with neighbors and potential international partners."
This clash can also be seen in Iran's "conflicting responses" to international pressure over its nuclear program.
Elections in February saw Iranian conservatives gain the upper hand in parliament after thousands of reformist candidates were barred from running for election. Now, it seems the new Iranian leadership "is determined not to be deflected from its nuclear program irrespective of international criticism." Tehran now seems to have "an increased confidence to go its own way in an unstable region dominated by the conflict and political transition in Iraq."
However, after the arrests of the British seamen are resolved, the paper says, "international relations with Iran will assume greater importance in coming months. Its refusal to cooperate with the IAEA will reopen the policy debate on how to respond. Iran is an important player politically, strategically and economically in the Middle East region, whose policy divisions and conflicts have been obscured by the Iraq crisis."
An editorial in the Chicago daily says Iran has been "backpedaling" ever since an agreement was reached between the leadership in Tehran and the foreign ministers of Britain, France, and Germany last fall.
A report released last week by the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) served as "yet another reminder that Iran hasn't fully disclosed its nuclear efforts." The IAEA report notes that Tehran has yet to ratify the agency's inspections protocol and has not "comprehensively" fulfilled its pledge to suspend its uranium-enrichment activities.
The Chicago paper goes further, saying Tehran is engaged in "flagrant lying about its nuclear weapons program." Iran has been "bamboozling the Europeans while playing for time to build nuclear weapons," in a "deadly game of nuclear brinkmanship that only grows more dangerous by the week."
The editorial predicts that the Iranian nuclear issue "will never be resolved diplomatically [until] the world speaks with a single voice." To begin with, it says, the IAEA "must quickly set a deadline for Iran's complete cooperation."
Several European nations and Russia "have much stronger trade ties to Iran, and they must use that leverage to force Iran's hand," the paper says. Moscow "can shut down all cooperation in building a nuclear power plant at Bushehr. The Europeans can threaten and deliver real economic sanctions."
The paper says more diplomatic "dithering" is in no one's interest.
Helena Despic-Popovic discusses a series of raids launched earlier this week by militants targeting Russian security forces in Ingushetia, which borders the breakaway republic of Chechnya. The military operation, which left at least 57 dead, was the most significant of the past several years and was a clear success for the militants, who lost only two men.
Citing the words of Russian analyst Yulia Latynina, the author says a country cannot win a war without recognizing that it is fighting one. The idea of Russian forces being engaged in a mere "pacification" of Chechnya is no longer tenable, as the war there enters its fifth year. Far from being stabilized, the conflict now threatens to spill over into neighboring Caucasus republics.
The expansion of the conflict is a tough blow for Russian President Vladimir Putin, who, ever since the attacks of September 2001 on the United States, has sought to equate the two-century-old Chechen struggle for independence with the international terrorist movement. Putin also seeks international support for his policy of rejecting all negotiations with the rebels.
Despic-Popovic says that in recent years, there has been something of an influx of Islamic radicals into the region, and some targeting of civilians. But she notes that these most recent attacks targeted only soldiers and political targets in Ingushetia, including the Ministry of Interior.
Despite the difficulties encountered by Putin's tactics, Despic-Popovic says the Kremlin chief is unlikely to alter the hard-line policy on Chechnya that initially propelled him to the political forefront.
LOS ANGELES TIMES
"The United States is about to fall prey to its own propaganda," writes Amitai Etzioni. "President Bush has repeatedly said we will grant 'full and complete sovereignty' to Iraq on June 30. We've said we'll turn over Saddam Hussein for trial and punishment and that the occupation will finally be replaced by Iraqi self-rule. But these grand promises are as unbelievable as they are unattainable."
No nation has ever had "complete" sovereignty, as nations are interdependent and often subject to the actions of other state actors. But the United States plans to grant Iraq "much less sovereignty than even weak nations have."
The United States will "maintain a major military presence in the country, leaving Iraqis just a 'say' in the ways these forces are employed, [and] will continue to be in charge of Iraq's security forces." And Washington "has ruled that the interim government will be prevented from enacting new laws or changing any of the legal arrangements put into place by the Coalition Provisional Authority."
Etzioni says that if the U.S. administration "would openly acknowledge that sovereignty only exists in varying degrees and that in Iraq it must be granted gradually, its actions would seem much less nefarious."
The United States "must openly admit that we are going to continue to pay for much of what the Iraqi ministries are going to do and that we will therefore have a major say in the way the funds are spent. We should openly admit that U.S. armed forces will be needed to prevent a civil war and pacify the country."
An open admission that the United States is far from granting Iraq complete sovereignty would make for "a sounder and more responsible" U.S. foreign policy.
An editorial in this London daily today says the U.S.-led "war on terror" was supposed to be the strong suit of U.S. President George W. Bush as he seeks re-election on 2 November. The conventional wisdom was that despite a lackluster economy and the foundering occupation in Iraq, the U.S. president's ability to make Americans feel safer would be enough to win him a second term.
But a new "Washington Post" poll released yesterday might indicate that is all changing, as Bush's approval rating dips below 50 percent. For U.S. citizens, the veil might be lifting, and they seem on the way to realizing that, "far from making them safer, the invasion of Iraq has been Al-Qaeda's most effective recruiting agent yet, fomenting anti-Americanism around the world" and turning Iraq itself into a focal point of international terrorism.
Some say it is surprising that Bush is doing as well as he is in public opinion, "given the Iraq prison abuse scandal, the ever-rising U.S. casualty toll, and the mounting evidence of administration mendacity, both over Saddam Hussein's alleged weapons of mass destruction, and the insinuation that he was involved in the 9/11 attacks."
But all that really matters is how the voters decide in November, says the paper. And surely the worries within the Bush administration are growing.