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Western Press Review: Criticism Targeted At U.S. Role In Iraq, Kofi Annan, European Commission

By Joel Blocker, Dora Slaba, and Anthony Georgieff

Prague, 8 January 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Western press commentary continues to focus in good part on the U.S.'s problems both with Iraq and with the United Nations' role in the Gulf country. There is also some comment today on a much-publicized scandal over alleged fraud within the European Union's Executive Commission.

Two U.S. newspaper columnists discuss the continuing flap over whether or not UN weapons inspectors in Iraq served as spies for the U.S. government. Earlier this week, U.S. press reports suggested that UN Secretary General Kofi Annan was angry with Washington because he believed his inspectors had indeed worked for Washington. The UN later denied the reports, but the controversy has persisted.

NEW YORK TIMES: Kofi Annan is too soft on Saddam Hussein

In the New York Times, A.M. Rosenthal says that the UN is now "carpeted in contempt for the U.S., for failure to use either its material power or what remains of its intellectual power to eliminate a minor dictator with major plans for mass slaughter....Annan," he adds, "moved into the emptiness created by the failure of American leadership against Saddam Hussein. He brought into his expanding role great charm and wit, and a clear concept on how to handle Saddam Hussein -- with diligent appeasement."

The commentary continues: "By himself, (Annan) has become Saddam's greatest single asset at the UN. And with Russia, China, France, and other countries 'sympathetic to Iraqi sentiments,' as it is put at the UN, he is part of an active coalition, along with selected top members of the huge UN bureaucracy. This coalition," Rosenthal believes, "is determined to whittle UN arms inspection down to a useless splinter and lift UN economic sanctions on Iraq. That would open the road for Saddam to reach his goal of chemical, nuclear, and biological weapons."

The columnist also says: "Annan is sometimes a subtle man....But his techniques are not subtle. Each time Saddam ties up or throws out UN (inspectors), Annan waits a while. Then after lots of secret hocus-pocus he pulls out the solution -- a new agreement in which Saddam again promises to cooperate with inspection, and again gets a good-boy reward, a weaker inspection system more acceptable to Iraq, for a while."

WASHINGTON POST: Annan is trying to weaken U.S. policies on Iraq

Foreign-affairs columnist Jim Hoagland is no kinder to Annan in his commentary in the Washington Post today. He writes: "Kofi Annan's staff is out to knife American policy on Iraq and 'rehabilitate' Saddam Hussein....Washington needs to take (a new) approach with...Annan, whose assistants this week used the media to try to decapitate the UN Special Commission (UNSCOM) that runs arms inspections in Iraq and to make these inspections more Saddam-friendly."

Hoagland continues: "Annan's staff aired anonymous complaints in the Washington Post (and Boston Globe) that UNSCOM chief inspector Richard Butler had permitted the organization to be used by U.S. intelligence for spying on Saddam. The Secretary General's assistants seemed shocked -- yes, shocked -- that an anti-Saddam bias had crept into UN actions on Iraq."

He also says: "(President Bill) Clinton should treat this development as a liberation from bothersome restraints on U.S. freedom of action....The need now is to lead, not to persuade....This does not mean the end of multilateralism or of hopes for a more effective UN in the future," Hoagland concludes. "Those goals can and should be attained. But they can be attained only under the influence of strong U.S. leadership. The place to begin is Iraq, the time is now."

EL PAIS: U.S. efforts in Iraq are unsustainable

Spain's El Pais daily also comments on the U.S.-UN-Iraq triangle, but comes to a different conclusion. The paper writes: "(Weapons) inspection under the UN mandate and spying (for the U.S.) are two completely different matters. For the U.S., the spy accusations constitute yet another set-back. Its already dubious interventions in Iraq are becoming more and more unsustainable."

The paper's editorial goes on: "It now seems that a return of the UN inspectors (to Iraq) is out of the question. Only the dismissal of the (inspectors' chief) Richard Butler could provide a flimsy chance of a dialogue between the UN and Iraq. But the U.S. has ceased to care. It has decided on the use of cannon and rockets. On the other hand, Saddam Hussein lost the military war long ago, and he is now concentrating on the propaganda war. The U.S. is helping him in this."

IRISH TIMES: U.S. and British efforts to overthrow Saddam are unrealistic

The Irish Times today carries an editorial on the same subject. It writes: "The UN's record with regard to Iraq is replete with legal ambiguity, as a result of which its reputation in the Middle East has been seriously impaired. The U.S. and Britain claimed a general justification under previous (UN) Security Council resolutions for last month's (air) attacks, but it was transparently obvious that they were acting unilaterally and not within the strict legal order of the world organization, as Mr. Annan himself made plain."

The IT continues: "That is one very serious problem. But if, to it is added the effective subversion of the UNSCOM operation by U.S. intelligence in order to pursue its own unilateral agenda against Iraq, an even more grievous issue is posed. Despite Mr. Annan's disclaimer, there have been disturbing and undenied reports that intelligence has been leaked to the Israelis from UNSCOM and that U.S. aid to the arms inspection teams was effectively a dual purpose operation, based on the assumption that the Iraqi groups they were monitoring are also closest to President Saddam Hussein."

The editorial sums up: "The announced intention of the U.S. and Britain to seek the overthrow of Saddam Hussein cannot be squared with UN mandates and is, in any case, unrealistic as a strategy. He would be endangered more by a relaxation of sanctions, or at least a clear linkage between that and compliance with a reformed arms inspection program, which could give Iraq's population back the confidence to assert itself against his dictatorship."

BERLINGSKE TIDENDE: Relations between Annan and the U.S. are deteriorating

The Danish daily Berlingske Tidende comments today: "In the past few years, the relationship between the U.S. and the Ghanaian UN Secretary General has deteriorated, disagreements over Iraq being an important factor (in the cooling)."

The paper continues: "Annan himself claims he speaks for the majority of the nations represented in the UN, and that there is only conflict when U.S. policies differ from those of the UN (such as the lifting of the oil embargo against Iraq, which Annan favors but Washington opposes). Yet Annan, in the wake of a (reported) exchange of fiery words between an angry U.S. Secretary of State and himself, now appears quite worried about his organization's independence and trustworthiness."

WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE: European Commission needs more public scrutiny

"The headlines are all about the euro," writes the Wall Street Journal Europe today. "But the buzz in Brussels over the past few days has been about alleged fraud."

The paper's editorial goes on: "A battle is shaping up that may determine whether the Executive Commission retains its privileged and largely unscrutinized role in the EU or whether the European Parliament will begin to assert itself more in demanding accountability from the Commission. Various members of the parliament," the WSJ explains, "that at least six commissioners...committed offenses that warrant their resignation or dismissal....Indeed, the Commission faces a censure motion in...the parliament next week that, if passed, could mean the dismissal of all 20 commissioners."

The paper says further: "The Commission is denying any wrongdoing...but (there have been similar) complaints before...It seems clear that the Commission badly needs more parliamentary and public scrutiny....It is in some ways unfortunate that the launch of the euro should be marred by this scandal. But [it might spur] the EU to introduce the concept of checks and balances in its institutions....That is the only way to ensure the long-run success of both the euro and European integration generally."

DAILY TELEGRAPH: Commissioners should resign or be decommissioned

"Decommission them," advises Britain's Daily Telegraph in its editorial today. The paper writes: "The European Commission has two functions. The first, that of proposing legislation, is held in check by the (EU's) Council of Ministers....The second, that of implementing laws passed by the Council, is subject to much laxer scrutiny."

The editorial continues: "It is inevitable that, in an unelected bureaucracy which embraces widely differing political cultures and enjoys extraordinarily generous perks, there will be instances of incompetence and corruption. Its very nature demands that its administration of an annual budget of more than $100 billion be closely supervised."

The DT adds: "(The Commission) has reacted to charges of fraud and mismanagement (made) by one of its auditors by suspending him...Commission President Jacques Santer has admitted that management problems have occurred....(Parliament) members can best persuade Mr. Santer to put his house in order by (calling for) individual commissioners (and not all 20) to resign. Such measures...will puncture the carapace that the Commission instinctively throws over itself."

SVENSKA DAGBLADET: The scandal has tarnished European Commission credibility

Sweden's Svenska Dagbladet daily writes in an editorial today: "The credibility of the European Commission is effectively bankrupt. (And) the unseemly battles between the Commission and the European Parliament threaten to render both organizations unproductive."

The editorial goes on: "The EU's Parliament is not really a parliament in the strict sense of the word. It is rather an institution of international cooperation, with its deputies having severely limited powers. One of their tasks is to oversee the Commission's work. The recent revelations (of possible fraud in the Commission) are the latest -- and most stunning -- instance...of antagonism between the two bodies."

The paper adds that "the way the Commission reacted to (the allegations, by suspending the staffer who made them,) demonstrates that the years-old demands for more openness (on its part) are being ignored. This imperils the legitimacy of the Commission and of the EU itself -- since its highest (executive) body's image is being tarnished."

BERLINGSKE TIDENDE: European Parliament is unlikely to remove the entire Commission

In Denmark's Berlingske Tidende today, Ole Bang Nielsen writes in a commentary: "That the European Parliament is seeking the dismissal of (several) of the most allegedly corruption-prone EU commissioners means that it wants to render its warning (to the Commission) in the strongest political terms. (But President) Jacques Santer opposes the firing of individual commissioners because he considers his organization to be what he calls a 'collective' body."

Nielsen continues: "This could mean that the whole Commission will have to go (if the vote of no-confidence against it succeeds). But this is unlikely," he concludes, since the Parliament will probably not be able to muster the two-thirds majority necessary (to remove the Commission)."