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Western Press Review: Iraqi Crisis And Yugoslav Refugee Problems

  • Breffni O'Rourke



Prague, 6 August 1998 (RFE/RL) -- The latest confrontation between Iraq and the United Nations, and the refugee problems of Yugoslavia, win much attention in the Western press today.

Iraqi President Saddam Hussein has frozen cooperation with UN weapons inspectors in what amounts to a protest against continuing economic sanctions against his country. Iraq also demands that the UN declare it has accounted for all Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. Baghdad in addition wants the dismissal of the UN chief inspector, Richard Butler.

NEW YORK TIMES: The immediate effect of the Iraqi announcement remains to be seen

In a news analysis in the New York Times correspondent Barbara Crossette writes that: "while the immediate effect of the Iraqi announcement remains to be seen, the action clearly breaks the agreement made in February with UN Secretary general Kofi Annan that averted American and British military action against Iraq."

Butler is to brief the UN Security Council on the crisis later today. Crossette notes that the Security Council has been deeply divided on how to deal with Iraq, and she says there is no indication how today's meeting might end. She writes that Russia, which has been strong supporters of Iraq, seems to be holding Butler at least partly responsible for the latest crisis, and Iraq, while trying to deepen divisions in the Council, is also seeking to undermine Butler.

DAILY TELEGRAPH: Saddam is likely to be disappointed

Under the headline "Stand up to Saddam," the Daily Telegraph of London says in an editorial that Saddam has obvious aims in that direction, but may not succeed. The paper writes: "Saddam is clearly hoping that he can split the Security Council and blame the British and Americans for intransigence. He is likely to be disappointed. France and Russia may wish to resume trading with Iraq, but they will not agree to the lifting of sanctions as long as conditions set by the U.N. remain so obviously unfulfilled; nor ultimately will they be able to prevent London and Washington from launching air strikes to enforce Saddam's compliance." The editorial continues: "It should not be forgotten that despite constant obstruction, UNSCOM has succeeded in eliminating many of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction." The DT also says: "The Iraqis complain of UNSCOM trickery inspired by the United States. That is nonsense. The choice before them is clear: either they cooperate with the commission until it can declare the nuclear, missile, chemical and biological programs terminated, or the Security Council will further extend sanctions in October."

FINANCIAL TIMES: Sanctions have done little to weaken Saddam's grip on power

A different view of the affair, one more critical of the United Nations, is taken in an editorial by the British daily the Financial Times. It says: "The latest standoff must call into question once more the long-term viability of UN policy on Iraq. Fading support for sanctions, lack of enthusiasm for U.S. military strikes, and pressure to open up Iraq for business, have undermined the Security Council's unity and offered Mr Saddam opportunities to play members against each other." The editorial goes on: "The sanctions have done little to weaken Mr Saddam's grip on power, but they have devastated the country and inflicted enormous suffering on the Iraqi population. They have become Mr Saddam's strongest card, increasing sympathy for Iraq's position in the Arab world and beyond." And it concludes: "There has to be a better way to contain Mr Saddam. For example continued inspections and stringent weapons monitoring and verification could be combined with a partial lifting of sanctions."

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: The solution lies in compromise

Germany's Sueddeutsche Zeitung says in an editorial that in any event, Saddam can be counted on to make trouble. It writes: "In the bad sense, Saddam Hussein can be relied upon. Every few months Iraq announces the end of its cooperation with the (UN) arms control panel UNSCOM. These declarations mostly come after a period of obstruction, and sometimes the exclusion of controllers. That's then followed by disagreements in the U.N. Security Council, where the U.S. and Great Britain make threats about the use of military force, while Paris, Moscow and Beijing show understanding for Baghdad." The paper adds: "The solution lies in compromise: UNSCOM takes up its work again, and the head controller Butler promises Iraq to speed up the inspections."

The editorial also says that the Iraqi population certainly suffers under the UN Sanctions, but, "on the other hand, Baghdad has used in wars, which it has itself started, weapons with poison gas and perhaps also biological weapons. Up to the present the Iraqis bow to the UN controllers only under the permanent threat of force, and most unwillingly. As long as Saddam refuses to lay open the status of all weapons of mass destruction, Butler's mission cannot be ended."

FREIE PRESSE: Saddam portrays himself as the protector that defies threats

Another German paper, the Freie Presse of Chemnitz, in an editorial writes about Saddam's ability to survive as Iraq's leader. Calling him a fox, the editorial says: "Until now at any rate, the dictator can feel himself to be the victor in all clashes with the world organization and the U.N. arms controllers." It continues: "Measures of force have united the bulk of the Iraqi population behind him rather than against him. Not because he is loved, but because he has always understood how to portray the USA as a threat, and himself as the protector that defies this threat."

GUARDIAN: The U.N. should react as coolly as it knows how

The British paper the Guardian carries an editorial saying the latest crisis is an incitement by Saddam, and that the UN should stay cool. It says that sadly the interests of the Iraqi people differ from those of the ruling clique: "Saddam thrives on tension, as he has shown time and time again. There is no easy way of handling him.....Secretary General Kofi Annan is absolutely right not to dramatize the latest confrontation. It is a 'major hiccup' and it may get worse, but ultimately it is part and parcel of the games that Saddam plays, and the U.N. should react as coolly as it knows how."

Apart from Iraq, another theme occupying the Western press today is the conflict in Kosovo, and the plight of refugees from that Serbian province and from elsewhere in the Balkans.

IRISH TIMES: A full scale humanitarian crisis has emerged

In an editorial, the Irish Times says: "The apparent resolve with which NATO and the European Union vowed to treat Serb aggression against the Albanian population in Kosovo a few weeks ago, has faltered as Mr Slobodan Milosevic has ruthlessly pursued his hegemonistic designs there. Over the past 10 days a major offensive, ostensibly directed against separatist guerrilla strongholds, has reportedly displaced up to 70,000 people from towns and villages in a pattern clearly reminiscent of ethnic cleansing in Bosnia....." The editorial continues: "A full scale humanitarian crisis now confronts all concerned. It is imperative to respond rapidly to it, to activate the efforts to reach a political settlement and to weigh up possible military pressure on Serbia. So far, the political will to do so has been clearly lacking, as western powers dither and disagree about objectives and means. It would be sensible for them to work as closely as possible with Russians in the weeks to come. They must also seek out Kosovan leaders capable of negotiating on behalf of their people."

FINANCIAL TIMES: Western responses to Serbian offensive are inadequate

A news analysis in the Financial Times by Gary Dinmore says: "The U.N. refugee agency estimates that ... 200,000 civilians, one tenth of the province's total population, has been displaced in the five-month conflict. Aid workers say that a humanitarian catastrophe is unfolding and that the risk of epidemics, such as cholera, is high....." The analysis continues: "The scale of the Serbian offensive makes the response of Western governments and international aid agencies look inadequate. In ten hours among several thousand refugees in western Drenica, reporters on Tuesday saw only two aid vehicles, both from the ICRC (International Committee of the Red Cross)."

INDEPENDENT: Russian and German objections must be put down

The British paper the Independent in an editorial calls for decisive action in Kosovo. It says: What will it take to force NATO to act over Kosovo? Two hundred thousand people have been forced to flee their homes in the Serbian province. This ethnic terrorism must be stopped. Russian and German objections must be faced down."

ALLGEMEINE ZEITUNG: The Italians do not want to know anything about Albanian refugees on their land

Italy's reluctance to accept refugees from the Yugoslav area and north Africa is the subject of a news analysis by Heinz-Joachim Fischer in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. He writes: "What cannot be counted on, is that a majority of Italians can imagine these refugees having a future in their land. Neither the government, nor a majority of the ruling coalition or the opposition, nor public opinion wants to know anything about that." About the difficult living conditions faced by the refugees who do manage to reach Italy, Fischer continues: "The Italians say it isn't their fault if thousands of Albanians come, and that suitable conditions for them can just sprout out of the ground. And when in the present mild summer weather hundreds more north Africans make their way over the sea, the refugee camps are rapidly over-filled..."

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