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Western Press Review: NATO's New Challenges, Iraqi Prime Minister Allawi, And EU Constitutional Hurdles

  • Khatya Chhor

Prague, 25 June 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Several items in the press today take another look at NATO, following a request this week by Iraq's Prime Minister Iyad Allawi for the alliance to help provide security in the country and ahead of the upcoming alliance summit in Istanbul. The role of NATO is also discussed today in light of its continuing mission in Afghanistan, which many believe is foundering due to the failure to extend a troop presence to areas outside Kabul. We also take a look today at Allawi as he prepares to take up the reins of government with the 30 June transfer of power to his interim Iraqi administration. Political reform in Armenia and the fledgling EU constitution, agreed on 19 June following all-night marathon negotiations, are also discussed.

THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE

While the world's attention is now focused on the impending 30 June transfer of authority to Iraq, its interest is flagging in another country where a democratic opportunity "is already at hand, waiting to be seized."

Afghan citizens, "after a quarter-century during which they suffered civil war, Soviet occupation, Taliban rule and the arrival of Al-Qaeda," are scheduled to go to the polls in September for presidential and parliamentary elections. But in the run-up to these crucial ballots, "they are getting less international help than they were promised, and far less than they deserve."

Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai is expected to win the presidential poll "easily," the paper says. But a more important question "is whether security will be adequate to allow most Afghans to register and vote without risking their lives."

The help Karzai has received so far has been "insufficient." NATO has deployed only 6,400 troops to Afghanistan and most of these remain in and around Kabul, leaving the Karzai government with little control beyond the capital. Pledges to donate more troops and funds have failed to translate into concrete aid.

"It's not terribly surprising that NATO would be reluctant to send forces to help in Iraq since the American invasion was so unpopular in Europe," the Chicago daily says. But it is "harder to imagine why Europeans would be so miserly when it comes to Afghanistan."

NATO allies are now at risk of not finishing the job they began in Afghanistan. "The elections planned for September are a major test of NATO's seriousness about multilateral efforts to fight terrorism and spread democracy," the paper says. "So far, it's failing."

FRANKFURTER ALLGEMEINE ZEITUNG

The "loud chorus of praise" for the EU constitutional treaty is only partly being sung for what the document actually says, says columnist Gunther Nonnenmacher. "The rest is an expression of relief that a process begun in December 2001 with the appointment of a convention has actually come to a successful conclusion."

Much of the squabbling over the document was due to a disagreement over decision-making and representation. The new EU text now states that "a majority vote of 55 percent of the member countries in the Council of Ministers must represent 65 percent of the EU population." The paper calls this a logical apportionment, because the decision-making process now "recognizes that Europe is not only an organization of governments but also of people."

But European leaders must now go before their constituents to "try to sell an unwieldy document that contains about 80 pages devoted to institutional regulations, about 30 devoted to basic rights, and about 50 devoted to an appendix with protocols." And all these pages "are filled with a language that is laborious and, at times, simply incomprehensible."

So it still "remains to be seen whether the constitutional treaty will become historic."

And given the low turnout and "voter skepticism" seen in the 13 June elections to the European Parliament, Nonnenmacher says national referendums on the constitution "could lead to the rejection of the treaty -- and possibly to the failure of the draft."

LE FIGARO

Alexandrine Bouilhet discusses a letter sent on 21 June from the Iraqi prime minister, Iyad Allawi, to NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer requesting NATO aid in stabilizing his country after the scheduled 30 June transfer of power. Bouilhet says while Allawi's request emanated from Baghdad, it was largely inspired by the United States. The appeal, which Bouilhet says was made public by Washington, comes ahead of a scheduled NATO summit and is sure to be a hot topic of conversation when the allies meet in Istanbul on 28-29 June.

Without going so far as to request the deployment of NATO troops to Iraq, which Bouilhet says would be "as absurd as it is unrealistic," Allawi has proposed that NATO take charge of local security forces such as the army, the police force, or customs officials. De Hoop Scheffer has said he trusts the allies will respond "favorably" to Allawi's letter in Istanbul.

Italy and the East European countries hastened to lend their support to the secretary-general. But all eyes then turn to France and Germany, "the troublemakers of NATO," who hold veto power in Brussels. Whereas Washington has insisted for months that it wishes to share the Iraqi burden with its allies, Paris and Berlin have always refused to take decisive action, not wishing to give the impression that they sanction the U.S.-led occupation.

But the U.S.-Iraqi request will be hard to refuse, Bouilhet says. Sixteen of 26 NATO members are already involved in Iraq through training or other projects. After all, she says, U.S. President George W. Bush is not the only one who wants to involve NATO in Iraq's rebuilding.

EURASIA VIEW

A contribution by Cory Welt, a Russian and Eurasian affairs analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, discusses recent indications of a willingness to reform coming out of Yerevan.

On a recent trip to Washington, Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian "outlined a bold vision for political reform, regional security, and cooperation with neighbors Azerbaijan and Turkey." His statements "provided a welcome change to the disheartening news" that has been coming out of Armenia in recent months.

Welt says the Armenian government's "brutal crackdown against opposition protests this April, its attacks on journalists, the ransacking of opposition headquarters, and political arrests were a blatant contradiction of democratic standards." But Oskanian's remarks "appeared to be more than mere PR [public relations] pitches," as the minister "also laid out means for allowing Armenia's opposition to reconcile its differences with the government."

"While chiding Armenia's political opposition for 'its aggressive attitude' towards the authorities, Oskanian revealed a standing government offer to give opposition deputies [veto] rights on three issues: amendments to the election code, constitutional reform, and anti-corruption legislation."

But whether the leadership in Yerevan will truly "seize the opportunity to implement this plan for political dialogue remains in doubt, however."

The opposition failed to galvanize much support for protests last spring, and "[returning] to parliament with concessions akin to the ones Oskanian described would be a face-saving maneuver," as its popularity has since fallen.

Welt says, "While the opposition's failure to mount a serious challenge might give Armenian authorities confidence to further inhibit official respect for rule of law, the government's newfound security could [also] encourage it to move in a positive direction."

THE ECONOMIST

An item in this London-based weekly magazine says the accession to power of Iraq's new prime minister, Iyad Allawi, has given rise to the hope "that a swelling majority of Iraqis, seeing control of their country reverting to their compatriots, will rally to the new order," help it undermine the insurgency, "and so gradually let Iraq reach a state of minimal normality in which a patchy peace, a measure of prosperity and a modicum of political civility if not full-fledged democracy can prevail."

Little may change on the ground with the return of Iraqi sovereignty on 30 June, the magazine says. Soldiers and civilians are likely to continue dying and Iraq "will remain a conquered land, with Iraqis accusing the infidel of still defiling the nation and its holy places by the mere fact of [his] presence."

But some significant things will change, says the magazine. Allawi has made clear that Iraq reserves the right to ask the U.S.-led forces to leave, and Washington has indicated they will if asked to do so.

The changes are "not just semantic," says "The Economist." Unlike the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority, "the incoming regime is an Iraqi one with executive powers endorsed unanimously in the UN's Security Council, approved by virtually all the countries of the Middle East and in the Muslim world." More importantly, so far it seems that most Iraqis, "however warily," are willing to give it a fair chance. "What they want above anything else -- way above democracy, it must be admitted -- is peace. If Mr. Allawi can use an iron fist to achieve that, they are very likely to back him."

THE WASHINGTON POST

The paper's David Ignatius says the hope for interim Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi "is that he can use parts of the old power structure to restore security to a country that, over the past year of occupation, has been coming apart at the seams."

Ignatius, who is acquainted with the Iraq politician, says Allawi "has the advantage of a stolid imperturbability. Trained as a medical doctor, he seems unfazed by a life of repeated assassination attempts, including one in 1978 that nearly killed him. He's an amiable, somewhat disheveled man who has to be prodded to buy the fancy clothes befitting a politician."

Since his nomination as prime minister, Allawi "has made a surprisingly fast [start], issuing almost daily proposals and public statements. Inevitably, he has tried to distance himself from his U.S. patrons."

"Allawi's appeal, and also his liability, is that he will govern Iraq as a strongman. His biggest problem these next few months will be staying alive, in the face of death threats. His only real protection will be the support of other Iraqis.

"In that sense, for all the U.S. troops who will remain after Wednesday's [30 June] handover, Iraq's fate will really be in the hands of Iraqis once again."
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