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Western Press Review: Flashpoint Passes In Iraq Crisis

  • Don Hill

Prague, 11 November 1997(RFE/RL) -- Crisis over Iraq's defiance of UN weapons inspections teams continues to draw Western press scrutiny.


The Washington Post expresses a cautiously optimistic view in an editorial today after U.S.-owned U2 reconnaissance aircraft overflew Iraqi airspace without incident. The Post says: "(U.S. President) Bill Clinton made the right move yesterday by resuming U.N.-authorized American reconnaissance flights over Iraq. (Iraqi President) Saddam Hussein found a reason -- the plane's altitude -- not to shoot at it. This is the basis on which the current crisis could yet begin to be eased. The two essential ingredients are American determination and Iraqi discretion. The matter of participation of American personnel in the U.N. arms inspections is harder, but the same principle applies. The United States must keep insisting on the inclusion of Americans on the U.N.'s terms until a so-far defiant Iraq grants it, whatever it takes.

"A couple of things are happening to bring a denouement nearer. One is that fresh, abundant and undeniable details bearing on Iraq's special-weapons ambitions and its evasions of inspections are becoming better known."

The editorial concludes: "It is widely suggested that the success of American policy hinges on bringing along France, Russia and others dazzled by the lures of commerce or influence with Iraq. Certainly their cooperation would limit possibilities of escalation and confrontation. But if, the United States having focused on disarming Saddam Hussein under U.N. resolutions, they choose to coddle him instead, then Washington is not without the partners and resources -- and political capacity -- to find its own way.


A Times of London news analysis today by Tom Rhodes and James Bone says that the United States has been joined by Britain in seeking to build a Western consensus in dealing with Saddam Hussein's tactics. The analysis says: "America resumed uninterrupted U2 reconnaissance flights over Iraq yesterday as Washington and Britain struggled to muster support at the United Nations for a tough response to defiance by Baghdad. The flights went off safely despite previous bellicose warnings from Iraq that it would fire on the first U2 to resume surveillance over Iraq."

Rhodes and Bone write: "Britain had privately suggested incorporating a declaration that Iraq is in material breach of its obligations under the Gulf War ceasefire, a legal formula allowing military action. But the phrase met resistance from Russia and France, and was dropped."


Widespread outrage over Iraq's intransigence is undercutting Saddam's position, Barbara Crosette writes today in a news analysis in The New York Times. She says: "Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz sharply attacked the United States (yesterday) as he pressed his country's case at the United Nations, calling Secretary of State Madeleine Albright a liar. But Iraq failed to make good on its threat to shoot down American U-2 surveillance flights over Iraq as the flights resumed (yesterday)."

Crosette writes: "For now, the United States was pursuing the course of diplomacy, and along with Britain called on the Security Council to impose new sanctions on Iraq. The actions are to retaliate for Iraq's threat to expel Americans serving on the international arms control team established to monitor Iraq's compliance with the 1991 cease-fire agreement that ended the Persian Gulf war."

She writes: "Iraq's behavior has aroused such widespread outrage that diplomats at the United Nations said they were optimistic that the new sanctions would be adopted as early as midweek, even though similar ones failed to win passage three weeks ago."


In today's issue of the German newspaper Die Welt, Evangelos Antonaros comments that Arab reaction to the confrontation is varied, confused, and even covert. He writes: "Bewildered silence from most of the West's Arab allies has been the main reaction so far to the new conflict with Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. Even at the time of the Gulf crisis seven years ago, they only joined in, gritting their teeth, and with a marked lack of enthusiasm. Only after two days of intensive persuasion was the then U.S. defense secretary able to talk the hesitant Saudis into participating. This time they are even more reserved."

Anjtonaros writes: "Some Arab newspaper (editorials) do criticize Saddam for picking a quarrel and sparking an unnecessary crisis. But usually they express admiration. One Egyptian newspaper praised Saddam for choosing what it said was probably the most favorable time for his showdown with the Americans. What this means is that, through its apparently pro-Israeli attitude, the U.S. has squandered almost all sympathy towards it in the Middle East region. Clearly, Saddam Hussein is banking on broad sections of the Arab population sympathizing with him and the fate of the Iraqi people."

He concludes: "How the countries of the Middle East will behave in the end depends on regional great power Saudi Arabia. It is whispered there that the wealthy Saudis who financed the Gulf War seven years ago to the tune of $50 billion are, tacitly, fully behind Washington's determined stance.


Robin Wright writes today in an analysis in the Los Angeles Times that the playing out of options in managing the crisis is likely to occur over weeks and months, not days. She writes: "In dealing with Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, the options for the United States and its allies span the gamut from angry but often ineffective words to bombs raining from the desert skies. But the supercharged atmosphere of the past week may well belie what's ahead. For most options will take time -- maybe even lots of time."

Wright says: "Short of Iraq throwing the first punch by following through on threats to attack a U.S. U-2 spy plane on loan to U.N. disarmament inspectors, it seems unlikely that the allies will turn to a military solution soon, U.S. officials say." She writes: "The major challenge of the moment is to devise a course of action where the cost is not higher to the allies, particularly to the United States, than it is to Baghdad."


And in today's New York Times, Steven Erlanger comments that the United States has complicated its diplomacy over Iraq by its coincidental international policy of containment toward Iran. Erlanger says: "For six years, the United States has tried to rein in and isolate Iran and Iraq at the same time. The current confrontation with Iraq shows how much harder it gets, year by year, to keep President Saddam Hussein under control. And perhaps more ominously, it comes as Iran is moving on its own toward breaking free of American-led restraints.

"On Iraq, the American-led coalition is merely fraying, because Saddam's crude challenges to the United Nations and the international system are creating temporary, collective unity against him. But the parallel effort by the U.S. to contain Iran through economic sanctions is falling apart.

"While the world's attention is on Iraq, where Saddam is preventing U.N. inspectors from monitoring what remains of his weapons program, senior American officials think the situation in Iran is much more dangerous in the long run. The United Nations has no comparable international monitoring of Iran's efforts to develop weapons of mass destruction and missiles capable of hitting Israel, Saudi Arabia and Europe, these officials said."