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Western Press Review: Ocalan And Saddam

  • Don Hill
  • Dora Slaba



Prague, 19 November 1998 (RFE/RL) -- At first glance, the issues raised by the detention in Italy of Kurdish Workers Party (PKK) leader Abdullah Ocalan and the continuing tactics of Iraq's Saddam Hussein seem clear. Most leaders in the West view both as terrorists who should be punished for established records of human rights violations. But most Western press commentary today finds the questions raised by both men's situations complicated and the answers far from obvious.

STUTTGARTER ZEITUNG: Ocalan indisputably is a terrorist

The Stuttgarter Zeitung says in an editorial today: "(Ocalan) ruled his organization according to Stalinist methods. (He) indisputably is a terrorist. Forty thousand people lost their lives in his guerrilla warfare. No Turk will ever be able to understand why Italy should give this man political asylum."

WESTDEUTSCHE ALLGEMEINE ZEITUNG: Turkey suppressed an entire nation

But the Westdeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung says editorially: "In his bloody fight for an independent Kurdistan, many of the victims were innocent civilians, but there are obvious reasons behind the methods of the PKK organization." The newspaper says: "Whatever happens to Ocalan, the problem of suppression (by Turkey) of an entire nation remains as long as Turkey sticks to its policy."

WASHINGTON POST: Careful diplomacy could offer a prospect

A Washington Post editorial today asks: "Should (Ocalan) be extradited to Turkey (or) should he be granted political asylum in Italy?" The paper then continues: "But this is too narrow a framework. The matter of Abdullah Ocalan -- leader of a Kurdish national movement that Turks blame for killing tens of thousands, costing thousands of millions and wasting southeastern Turkey -- may conceivably offer a diplomatic opening. Italy's new prime minister, Massimo D'Alema, bravely is considering it."

The Post concludes: "In Rome, (Ocalan might) be under pressure to take up a new role as a peaceful bargainer for his people. The change (would require) a pervasive and verified change by his faction. (It also would put) a strenuous burden of internal policy reflection on the Turks. Handled carefully, it could offer a prospect of softening the unrelievedly bleak vista that now reaches out before Turks and Kurds alike."

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: The government in Bonn has suddenly taken an interest in playing tactics

Commentator Hans Lyendecker writes in today's Sueddeutsche Zeitung that Germany has a clear right to claim extradition of Ocalan also, but German authorities aren't so sure now that they want him. Lyendecker says: "Eight years ago, a judge in the Bundesgerichtshof, the German Supreme Court, decided there were sufficient grounds to grant (a) prosecutor's request and issue an arrest warrant for (Ocalan). The PKK chief stood accused of ordering the murder of a compatriot in Ruesselheim, near Frankfurt, in 1984. (And), under a European Union treaty, gaining the extradition of a suspect from a fellow EU-member country should be a fairly simple matter for Germany."

However, Lyendecker writes: "The government in Bonn has suddenly taken an interest in finessing the issue and playing tactics. A difficult trial based on circumstantial evidence should be avoided, officials are now implying. The PKK, a banned guerrilla organization, would make Germany a showplace for its violence, and Italy as well, if it took the risk of extraditing Ocalan. A trial in The Hague is being mentioned."

Press commentary on the standoff with Iraq pursues two themes: It is difficult to determine what the West's policy ought to be; and, it is difficult to determine what U.S. and British policy actually is.

NEW YORK TIMES: Aggressive inspection is more practical than anything else

The New York Times in an editorial today says: "Weary of endless confrontations with Iraq, (U.S.) President (Bill) Clinton, Congress and Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain now are rallying around the idea of overthrowing (Saddam). The thought certainly is alluring."

However, the editorial concludes: "If Clinton and members of Congress are serious about trying to overthrow him, they need to level with the American people about the potential financial and human costs. The project will not be cheap or bloodless. Nor is it likely to succeed without an American invasion and occupation of Iraq. Keeping Iraq isolated and controlling its weapons of mass destruction through aggressive inspection is an imperfect policy, but it is more practical than anything else that has been proposed."

LE MONDE: An embargo has to be separated from disarmament

The French newspaper Le Monde editorializes today that the best policy would be to lift the U.S-supported embargo against Iraq. Le Monde contends: "The prospects of an end to sanctions should impel Saddam Hussein to disarm." The newspaper goes on: "A courageous decision is necessary to resolve this situation. One has to say that disarmament is a priority -- and thus the perpetuation of UNSCOM -- and not the embargo. One has to acknowledge that it will never be possible to prove complete disarmament. Hence an embargo has to be separated from disarmament, and the sanctions have to be lifted now, while demanding a completely free hand for UNSCOM. Saddam Hussein would no longer have any excuse for provoking a crisis and would remain under the control of UNSCOM. And above all the Iraqi people would no longer be condemned to paying for Saddam Hussein's banishment from the international community."

INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE: We must turn Saddam's contempt for democracy back on himself

Today's International Herald Tribune quotes a commentary by Robin Cook, the British foreign secretary, published in The Daily Telegraph, London. The comment says, in part: "We must turn Saddam's contempt for democracy back on himself. A government of Iraq that was accountable to its people would end their suffering." Cook also says: "Saddam now is caught in a web. He knows that, if he attempts to escape from the web by breaking his pledges, we will hit his regime hard and fast."

INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE: Saddam, Don't try that again

The International Herald Tribune also publishes a commentary in the form of an open letter by Washington Post writer Jim Hoagland. Hoagland, responding to the fact that U.S. cruise missiles were virtually on their way this week, when Saddam suddenly backed off, says: "Dear Saddam: That was too close. Don't try that again."

Hoagland ends his letter by offering Saddam the following potential signs that this time Clinton's attack threats are serious: "Does (Clinton) immediately dispatch (U.S. Vice President) Al Gore, (Secretary of State) Madeleine Albright or (Defense Secretary) William Cohen to Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries to lock in their support for the new round of attacks that the White House says it is poised to deliver? Does Mr. Clinton or Sandy Berger meet with Iraqi National Congress leaders in Washington? Do U.S. officials leverage Kurdish leaders into public support of your downfall? Is there a new head of the Middle East at the CIA and a more serious covert effort from that organization?"

DAILY TELEGRAPH: The real policy towards Iraq is to isolate Saddam

Finally, Christopher Lockwood, Daily Telegraph diplomatic editor, laments today in a commentary: "If Saddam Hussein can be said to have scored any victory in the latest episode, it is to have confused the West thoroughly over what its policy now is."

Lockwood says Clinton has said he'll try to bring Saddam down and Blair has claimed there is growing internal opposition to Saddam. Lockwood writes: "Fortunately, the likelihood is that, despite what Mr. Clinton and Mr. Blair say, the real policy towards Iraq remains exactly what it always has been -- to isolate Saddam by rigorously enforced sanctions and to use UN inspectors to disarm him."

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