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Western Press Review: NATO leaders Meet In Istanbul, Serbia's New President, And Seeking A Solution In Chechnya

  • Khatya Chhor

Prague, 28 June 2004 (RFE/RL) -- As a NATO summit gets under way in Istanbul, several items in the major dailies take a look at the recent history of the alliance and its developing role in dealing with the world's crises. Discussions over a future NATO role in Iraq following the return of Iraqi sovereignty is also a hot topic of debate among alliance leaders. Other attention in the press is focused on yesterday's elections in Serbia, where a pro-European candidate, Boris Tadic, won the presidency; finding a lasting solution to the war and violence in Chechnya; the 26 June summit of EU and U.S. leaders; and Kyrgyzstan's "fading romance" with the West.


An editorial in the London-based daily says U.S. President George W. Bush is likely to return from this week's NATO summit in Istanbul with some of what he wanted, including a NATO pledge to help train the new Iraqi army and police force. "The agreement will be hailed as proof of the alliance's continuing relevance after the Cold War, but this has everything to do with U.S. domestic politics and very little to do with the security needs of Iraq." Facing what could be a tough bid for reelection in November, Bush is now interested "in recruiting French, German and Ukrainian troops for the international legitimacy that they confer on the occupation" of Iraq.

But the paper says all "the sunny photocalls, bold rhetoric and vagueness" of the agreement text "cannot disguise that [Bush] has been granted very few items on his original wish-list" for the NATO summit. France and Germany might offer some logistical assistance, but it remains to be seen whether their troops would actually be deployed in Iraq or if training will take place in Europe, Turkey or elsewhere. Bush's request for NATO assistance in protecting any future UN mission in Iraq was also rejected.

"The Independent" says the "tortuous negotiations over the wording of the pledge show just how much bad blood remains" between Europe and the United States.

Rather than recruiting more foreign troops to help in Iraq, the U.S. administration is having to devote all its energy to ensuring the Italian, South Korean, Japanese, and Polish troops already deployed will remain until Iraq's January elections.


"The camaraderie on display at today's opening of the NATO summit in Istanbul notwithstanding," events of the past two years have not presented much evidence that the alliance still fits the definition of a association designed to pursue common interests, says an editorial in the Brussels edition of "The Wall Street Journal." Thus it may be time to rethink the fundamental rationale of the trans-Atlantic union.

NATO's European members will likely "congratulate each other for agreeing to train Iraqi security services." But for many years, "America's security umbrella has allowed Europeans to underfund their military services to the point that even if there were a trans-Atlantic consensus" on what constitutes "common interests," Europe "would have little to offer."

The paper says that even "in Afghanistan, which Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer calls NATO's 'number one priority,' the allies' record is abysmal." NATO has deployed only 6,500 troops, and these are stationed "in the relative safety of Kabul."

"Thousands more are needed to bring stability" to Afghanistan's reconstruction process. But NATO member states "are stalling, forcing the secretary-general to go begging for a chopper here and an airplane there. And as NATO fails to expand from Kabul, the security situation is deteriorating." Elections planned for June have been put off until September.

The paper says NATO's sorry record should bring "a dose of reality" to those calling for the U.S. administration to rely more on multilateral efforts.


An editorial in the Dublin daily says the 26 June U.S.-EU summit in Ireland's Dromoland Castle reflected the new geopolitical realities that are emerging. The EU "has become an important international actor" following its recent enlargement to 25 countries comprising 455 million citizens. Brussels "must work together with the U.S. as a true partner on a more equal basis politically as well as economically."

Following over a year of deep trans-Atlantic differences, "substantive agreements on the Middle East, Iraq, combating terrorism and deepening economic relations were reached, along with commitments to work together on HIV/AIDS, Sudan/Darfur and preventing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction."

These developments "clearly register a shift towards a more cooperative trans-Atlantic relationship, based on a more realistic attitude by the Bush administration on the need for it in an election year." There was also "a detailed commitment to work more closely on countering terrorism, on the basis that human rights and the rule of law must be respected.

"Much of this is work in progress, but the summit has put EU-U.S. relations on a more even plane after an exceptionally difficult period of tension."


Russia is repeating the mistakes it made during its 1980 invasion of Afghanistan in its conduct of the war in Chechnya, says an editorial in the Paris-based daily today. Russian troops "have fanned a nationalist rebellion into another blaze of terrorism."

Armed incursions staged by Chechen fighters into neighboring Ingushetia on 21-22 June are "only the latest in a series of attacks that demonstrate that Chechnya has become an intractable conflict." The Kremlin's war to squelch the aspirations for independence in the breakaway republic has become "a front in the global terror war in which we need to search for common solutions," the paper says.

"The terrible dilemma of these conflicts is that military success against 'traditional' rebels only seems to increase the power of the warlords and radicals who feed on bloodshed. Crackdowns on terrorists bleed into the civilian population, creating resentment against the outsiders and new recruits for the radicals."

Russia now seems "trapped in an endless cycle of terror, vengeance and atrocity."

The paper says the solution to the conflict is to combine the "Chechenization" of the leadership in the republic "with a rigid enforcement of discipline among Russians, who have become infamous for their atrocities in the region."

Russian President Vladimir Putin should also grant an amnesty for Aslan Maskhadov, the elected president of Chechnya who is now in exile, and others who are willing to renounce violence.

The European Union could act as a mediator in the conflict, while it and the rest of the international community "should urge Putin to restrain his soldiers, and his vengeance."


Independent journalist Leila Saralaeva writes from Bishkek saying the leadership in Kyrgyzstan "is distancing itself from the West to prevent criticism of its record on political rights" from affecting two elections scheduled for 2005.

"The administration of President [Askar Akaev] -- once the focus of Western attention in Central Asia because of its relatively progressive policies -- has grown increasingly uncomfortable with the level of outside interest in the way it runs the country," she says.

Parliamentary elections slated for February are "likely to be hotly contested by opposition parties, and gaining a clear victory there will boost the [Akaev] regime's chances of winning the presidential poll in October the same year." Akaev has indicated that he will not run for reelection, she says, but "if he keeps to this decision he is likely to seek to secure the election of an anointed successor."

Saralaeva says: "Following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Kyrgyzstan was the only Central Asian state to show some determination to pursue democratic reforms. Unlike its neighbors it had little oil, gas or cotton wealth and was reliant on Western goodwill for soft loans and aid." A "vibrant civil society" eventually emerged, earning the country the title of Central Asia's "island of democracy."

But she says in the last few years, "increasing international concerns at backsliding on political rights have led to [Akaev's] pro-Western stance becoming more muted." The president now insists that Kyrgyz democracy should be allowed to develop at its own rate, and has rejected Western attempts to influence the pace of reform.


An editorial today expresses the paper's reservations regarding whether, as the U.S. president has said, the era of bitter divisions over Iraq is really over.

"Not necessarily," says the paper.

NATO members France and Germany are determined not to take part in any NATO mission "that might grant retrospective authority to America's Iraq policy." The paper says, "We will know their view has prevailed if the practical steps agreed this week are limited, piecemeal and botched in the delivery."

And if this is the case, "we will be faced yet again with the question, asked so many times since the collapse of Communism: what is NATO for?"

Since the collapse of communism, NATO has served two roles. One is to encourage democracy in the former Soviet states, and in this it has met with some success.

The other has been to act as peacekeeper, an endeavor in which the alliance's record has been mixed. NATO "intervention in Kosovo, in the face of UN gutlessness, was effective; its peacekeeping in the Balkans since then has been less so -- and its failure to catch Radovan Karadzic," an indicted war criminal who continues to hide out in the area near Bosnia and Montenegro, "is deeply embarrassing."

But worst of all is NATO's current mission in Afghanistan, which "has been crippled by the reluctance of member nations to commit resources to the area."

The paper says it might have been "inevitable that the alliance would find itself paralyzed during the Iraq war." But there is "absolutely no excuse for inaction now. NATO's future, as well as Iraq's, is at stake."


As NATO leaders meet in Istanbul, an editorial in "The New York Times" says the alliance "cannot afford the luxury of a purely ceremonial summit meeting. Its most important current operation -- leading the international peacekeeping force in Afghanistan -- is in serious trouble, short of troops and unable to fulfill its mission. Rescuing this faltering operation will require injections of political will from several of the leaders attending the Istanbul meeting."

The mission in Afghanistan -- NATO's first ever out-of-area -- "should have been a chance for NATO to demonstrate its military relevance in the post-Cold War world. Yet so far, NATO's performance has failed to meet Afghanistan's pressing needs. Its forces have not been strong enough to support [Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman] Hamid Karzai's efforts to disarm warlord militias, nor have they moved forcefully enough against drug labs and traffickers."

NATO's European members are right to argue that the White House has "shortchanged" the alliance by diverting U.S. troops to fight the war in Iraq, the paper says. "But U.S. mistakes do not excuse NATO's poor performance. Securing a shattered and vulnerable Afghanistan is [in] the direct interest of the entire Atlantic alliance. Its leaders need to face up to their responsibilities."


The L.A.-based daily reprints excerpts from a web log, or blog, posted on the Internet by an Iraqi-American in Baghdad. Ayad Rahim says the Iraqi population is bracing itself for an upsurge in violence, looting and attacks following the transfer of power -- which was expected on 30 June but happened in a surprise ceremony today.

"People are expecting the interim government that takes over [to impose] a curfew," says Rahim. In the past, following a revolution or coup, every incoming regime has done so, he says.

"People who can afford to leave the country are -- to ride out the storm a couple of weeks at the least, [but] more like a month or two."

Rahim writes: "Small shops, bakeries and fruit and vegetable places will probably stay open -- they aren't expected to be targeted. Quite likely, jewelry stores will be closed, fearing thieves and looting, in case police disappear and the situation turns anarchic. Likewise, electronics stores, car dealers. Banks await orders from the government.

"That leaves the main targets of all of this, the police and defense forces. Everything depends on them," says Rahim. "They're at the spearhead of the fight. This is where the mettle of the nation is going to be tested. This could be the make-or-break period, testing the proposition that Iraqis will stand up and fight for their freedom."


Petra Markovic writes from Belgrade on the Serbian president-elect, Boris Tadic. His critics as well as admirers describe him as a "political bulldozer," Markovic says.

During a campaign somewhat lacking in luster, Markovic says, Tadic made clear his commitment to making Serbia a member of the European Union. Once close to the founder of Serbia's Democratic Party, Zoran Djindjic, who was assassinated in 2003, Tadic seems committed to continuing reform.

Much like Djindjic, the 46-year-old Tadic exhorts his followers to resist the nationalism that was at the root of the breakup of Yugoslavia during the 1990s. But he also seems to have ambitions that go beyond the mandate granted to the presidential office under the Serbian Constitution. He intends to develop a foreign policy for Belgrade, although this endeavor is supposed to be jointly undertaken for the federal union of Serbian and Montenegro as a whole.

But Markovic says Tadic is also pragmatic, and has been very careful to cooperate with the international war crimes tribunal at The Hague. Such cooperation is an essential component to future membership in both NATO and the EU. However, recent surveys suggest that 60 percent of the Serb population remains hostile to the international tribunal.

Tadic has called for national consensus on cooperating with the war crimes court, but has pledged to do everything possible to ensure that those indicted are eventually tried in Serbian national courts instead.