Prague, 19 February 1998 (RFE/RL) -- UN Secretary General Kofi Annan's expected arrival in Baghdad tomorrow in a last minute attempt to find a diplomatic solution to the Iraqi crisis occupies foreign policy comment in virtually every major daily newspaper on both sides of the Atlantic today.
Nevertheless, yesterday's decision by NATO in Brussels to maintain the NATO-led Stabilization Force (SFOR) in Bosnia at full strength of 34,000 soldiers from 36 countries for at least six months after SFOR's mandate ends on June 30 does attract some editorial comment in the German press.
SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: Moscow had previously wanted the force to be led by some organization other than NATO
Munich's Sueddeutsche Zeitung comments that negotiations with Russia over the new Deterrence Force (DFOR) could be difficult since Moscow had previously wanted the force to be led by some organization other than NATO, for example the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).
NEUE RURH/NEUE RHEIN ZEITUNG: One stays where one is
The Neue Ruhr/Neue Rhein Zeitung from Essen says the NATO Council's message yesterday was "unmistakable." "The NATO Council, the most important decision making body of the North Atlantic Alliance, continues to perceive the peace in Bosnia as being so fragile that after the expiration of the current SFOR mandate, no one dares reduce the (number) of peace troops. For a long time there have been indications of something that was not to be found in any official announcement: NATO has adjusted itself to a military presence in Bosnia the end of which no one can foresee."
The newspaper says: "The alliance has pledged itself in Bosnia and thus is doomed to succeed. A failure would result in a virtually irreparable loss of image and trustworthiness. Hence one stays where one is."
NEUE OSNABRUECKER ZEITUNG: NATO had no realistic alternative
Germany's Neue Osnabruecker Zeitung says "the situation in the Balkan republic could not be described more strikingly than with NATO's decision to continue its Bosnia mission at unreduced troop strength. Serbs, Muslims and Croats continue to prove incapable of making peace on their own. Without the military presence of SFOR, order would quickly disintegrate, hate and violence would again cost many human lives. Thus NATO had no realistic alternative. A premature withdrawal would come at a high cost especially for the Germans. They would have to count on more refugees from Bosnia. There could no more talk for some time about returning those now living in Germany. Added to that, the latest political easing in the Bosnian Serb entity offers for the first time a realistic chance for a peaceful, new beginning."
FINANCIAL TIMES: It is to be assumed that Kofi Annan is going to Baghdad with some degree of flexibility
The Financial Times today comments: "It is to be assumed as well as hoped that Kofi Annan, the UN secretary-general, is going to Baghdad with some degree of flexibility to get a diplomatic solution to the crisis over UN weapons inspectors from Saddam Hussein. If his trip is merely to deliver an ultimatum, the telephone would suffice. This is bound to be the last chance to avoid the bombardment of Iraq by the American and British armada in the Gulf.
The Financial Times says: "Almost certainly, Mr Saddam will agree to a large part -- but not all -- of what is demanded of him, and try to wrong-foot the United States, forcing it to justify air-strikes that virtually all Arab leaders believe will be a political as well as human disaster. As Washington knows, bombing Iraq is most unlikely to weaken appreciably Baghdad's ability to develop biological and chemical weapons. Nor does air power stand much chance of removing Mr Saddam himself. What a new assault on Iraq is much more likely to do is ignite the Arab world in anti-American and anti-Israeli fury."
The Financial Times says, "The UN must spell out that the inspection process is designed to get sanctions lifted on Iraq if it complies with UN resolutions. Above all, the Unite States must make clear it has abandoned its position that the embargo should stay until Mr Saddam goes. However desirable his removal may be, tying it to sanctions has no basis in international law -- and anyway the current measures are too blunt an instrument to secure that goal."
CORRIERA DELLA SERA: The eyes of the world are directed at Kofi Annan
Italy's Corriere della Sera of Milan comments, "The eyes of the world are directed at Kofi Annan. The master of peace missions stands before the most important test of his life. The UN secretary general has prepared everything for his decisive meeting with Saddam Hussein this weekend. (But) it is not certain whether it will suffice for Saddam to save face. If war breaks out, then Saddam will ensure that it will be viewable on television around the world. He has already opened up Iraq's gates to the big U.S. broadcasters."
LA REPUBBLICA: We watch pictures of Kofi Annan's departure form New York with a depressing sense of deja-vu
Similarly the Rome daily la Repubblica comments, "Just as in a low-budget remake of a particularly lousy movie, the pictures of 'Gulf War Two' are flickering across the TV screens of the world with a predictably unhappy end. We saw these pictures seven years ago in the last attempted mediation by Mikhail Gorbachev and his special emissary Primakov in Baghdad in January 1991. And we watch pictures of Kofi Annan's departure form New York with a depressing sense of deja-vu."
LE FIGARO: Emissaries of peace have not had a relaxing time
France's Le Figaro comments, "Since the end of the Cold War, the emissaries of peace have not had a relaxing time. The Peruvian Perez de Cuellar never recovered from the humiliation he suffered in Iraq four days before the outbreak of "Desert Storm." The Egyptian Boutros-Ghali emerged discredited from the Somali and Bosnian morass. This weekend it will be the Ghanaian Kofi Annan's turn to show himself at his best: the mission is the last chance before rockets and bombs fall on Saddam Hussein's palaces." Le Figaro asks: "Will he succeed in getting a despot who fears nothing so much as a loss of face to bow down?"
L'ECLAIR DES PYRENEES: The United States is taking a huge risk
L'Eclair des Pyrenees from the southern French town of Pau comments today: "The United States is taking a huge risk that by making a massive military strike against Iraq it will be securing Saddam Hussein even more firmly in power, drawing together around him not only the Iraqis but also the Arab masses that are always ready to turn him into a hero. Washington's position would be stronger if the United States showed the same decisiveness to get Israel to obey UN resolutions that the Jewish state has regularly ignored."
AKTUELT: Annan has a 50/50 chance
The Danish Social Democratic daily Aktuelt comments in Copenhagen today that, "Kofi Annan will be bearing a heavy burden if he tries at five minutes to twelve to prevent a new Gulf War." Aktuelt says: "He should aim for results without space for diplomatic maneuverability that would satisfy the USA, fulfill the UN resolutions and enable Saddam Hussein a not too embarrassing withdrawal from the war of nerves poker game that he himself set in motion. The task appears insoluble. Nevertheless, Annan has a 50/50 chance. With Saddam Hussein one never knows where the wind is blowing from."
DAGBLADET: Annan is to be wished success
The Norwegian daily Dagbladet comments that, "Annan is to be wished success above all on political grounds. A war against Iraq would be perceived in large parts of the Islamic world as a brutal slaughter of innocent people. The situation is completely different than in 1991 when most Arab states joined in the war against Saddam Hussein."
BASLER ZEITUNG: 'Bombs instead of words' however, would be a fatal defeat
Switzerland's Basler Zeitung comments today: "The UN Secretary General is not to be envied (since) the space for maneuver in this 'mission impossible' is narrow. The chance for a diplomatic resolution is as before minimal. All the greater are the risks facing Kofi Annan: his personal trustworthiness but also the trustworthiness of the United Nations as an intermediary in international conflicts are at stake. If the general secretary stands firm and defends Washington's uncompromising position, then he will be written off especially in the Arab world as a blind follower and vassal of the super power. If Saddam Hussein offers a compromise unacceptable to Washington, there will be a military strike. 'Bombs instead of words' however, would be a fatal defeat for the world organization which was founded to prevent wars."