Accessibility links

Western Press Review: Iraq and Iran

  • Joel Blocker
  • Dora Slaba

Prague, 3 March 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Recent developments in two large Persian Gulf nations, Iraq and Iran, elicit considerable commentary in the Western press today. Editorials focus mostly on the U.S.'s continuing confrontation with Iraq and signs of growing influence for moderates in Iran.

NEW YORK TIMES: The White House should let the American people and Congress know about its new strategy

Under the title "Unexplained Strategies on Iraq," an editorial in the New York Times today, perceives what it calls a "shift [in the White House's] military strategy in Iraq to advance the goal of toppling Saddam Hussein. The change," the paper says, "has become clear in recent days as Washington escalated its air strikes against Iraq. The bombing raids appear designed to punish the Iraqi military in hopes that disgruntled officers will lead a rebellion against Saddam rather than suffer further losses of men and equipment."

The editorial continues: "If this is the new American strategy, President [Bill] Clinton or Defense Secretary William Cohen should let the American people and Congress know.... Many Americans might support an effort to unseat Saddam. But the application of American force overseas should never be a matter of mystery and speculation at home or exempt from congressional consultation. One of these days an American or British pilot may be captured or killed, and the reasons for placing him in danger ought to be explained before that day arrives."

"The White House," the NYT adds, "also needs to answer reports that American spies manipulated the United Nations weapons inspection program in Iraq. [The U.S.'] desire to collect information on Iraq's military is understandable, but data should not be gathered in a way that compromises the UN's independence. That will only make it harder to carry out disarmament under international authority in the future, and will hinder American efforts to counter the spread of prohibited weapons worldwide."

WASHINTON POST: There is more to this shabby exploitation of the UN

The Washington Post, one of two U.S. papers that earlier this year broke the story of Washington's use of UN weapons inspectors for national intelligence purposes, comments today on its latest report. The paper said yesterday that the U.S. secretly wired a UN microwave transmission system in order to monitor a wide range of Iraqi military communications without the knowledge of UN officials. In its editorial, the paper writes: "All this took place while the U.S. was denying Iraqi charges that it was exploiting the agreed-upon UN inspections for purposes of American espionage. The toll of the two operations, which ended when Iraq cut off inspections after the American and British bombing of last December, only now is being assessed."

The WP continues: "There is more to this shabby exploitation of the UN. The outcome adds to the difficulties facing the U.S. and others in designing another arms-monitoring scheme to replace the one lost in December; no workable substitute for UN inspections, imperfect as they are, has yet been found. The latest disclosures also are bound to sharpen the question of whether other UN agencies have been penetrated quietly by various national intelligence services."

The editorial sums up: "What happened is not a moral crime. But it is a blunder, bestowing further embarrassment on a line of American policy already afflicted with a bad case of the staggers."

FRANKFURTER ALLGEMEINE ZEITUNG: Is this not the time for a new beginning?

In Germany, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung is also critical of U.S. policy toward Iraq, saying in its editorial: "Surely, the first commandment of political reason is to be vigilant in regard to Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. The consequences of taking [his] assertions at face value or making decisions based [largely] on commercial interests were demonstrated in textbook fashion by [Saddam's 1991 invasion of Kuwait and the international coalition's] subsequent armed counter-attack."

The FAZ editorial continues: "What is happening now in the no-fly zones in northern and southern Iraq is also not the wisest possible action. Washington is making clear that it is the master in these zones [established after Iraq's defeat in the 1992 Gulf War]. This prevents Iraq from upgrading its military posture. But it will not lead to any kind of permanent success or stable policy. In any case, it is only an attempt to contain the conflict at an even level and prevent it from boiling over."

"To a certain degree," the FAZ editorial concludes, "what applies to Iraq also applies to Iran. The U.S. strategy of double containment in the Gulf is now many years old [and perhaps obsolete]. In Iran, where the moderates have more than maintained their influence, European firms are increasingly leading Washington by the nose and are ignoring the [U.S. Congress'] ban on [large-scale] investments. Is this not the time," the paper asks, "for a new beginning?"

DIE WELT: Election results could be the breakthrough for a more liberal domestic and foreign policy in Iran

Another German newspaper, Die Welt, assesses the results of last week's municipal elections in Iran. The paper notes: "Iranian conservatives and anti-reformist forces have suffered a devastating defeat in [the] local elections. In Tehran, their center of power, they were unable to take a single seat in the city council." Die Welt's editorial says that the elections "turned into a plebiscite of young people and women. They had called upon President [Mohammad] Khatami to commit himself to the obstacle-strewn path to more freedom in Iran, and they notched up a further success for the [moderate] line he has taken."

The editorial goes on: "Women [especially] did very well in these first local elections since the Iranian revolution in 1979.... The question now," the paper adds, "is how long the arch-conservative power elite can continue ignoring the people's desire for more moderation in their lives. In May 1997, the Iranians elected Khatami to be their president. For anti-reformist circles it was an unheard-of occurrence, but large sections of the people took it as an opportunity to liberate Iran from international isolation."

Die Welt adds: "Khatami emerges strengthened from these elections. His influence on the armed forces, parliament and the powerful judiciary should increase. For the president, this is more than a symbolic win: it could be the breakthrough for a more liberal domestic and foreign policy in Iran. The intimidation attempts made by Iranian secret service agents in the run-up to the election -- the murder of dissidents and pressure on the liberal press -- rebounded against the religious leadership."

It concludes: "The conservatives will be given just one last --legal -- chance to assert themselves before the next presidential elections in May 2001. That will be at next year's parliamentary elections. Many observers, however, believe the trend which is directly linked with the name Khatami to be irreversible." In Britain, the Financial Times is of a similar opinion today (F805), arguing that it's "time to back Iran's reformers." Citing last Friday's electoral results, the paper writes: "Khatami...has demonstrated once again that he has overwhelming popular support in trying to bring the 20-year-old Islamic revolution under democratic accountability and the rule of law. The West," the FT argues, "must now do its utmost to bolster his position."

The editorial goes on: "Iran's orthodox theocrats were -- and remain -- stunned by the sheer scale of [Khatami's 1997 electoral victory, in which he won over 70 percent of the vote]. Now, it has happened to them again, and the armies of youngsters and women who elected Mr. Khatami have this time been electing themselves; some significant [municipal] councils will be either majority or totally controlled by women."

The FT adds: "For all that the hard-liners retain control of key levers of power -- foreign and defense policy, the intelligence services and judiciary -- they have been massively rejected by the Iranian people." The paper urges increased Western support for and investment in Iran, "which needs to create nearly one million jobs a year for its very young population..." It also criticizes U.S. "attempts to isolate Iran by sanctions," saying: "At a time when Tehran is opening to the world -- even considering equity stakes [that is, public stocks] in its oil industry, the U.S. is deterring investment and withholding recognition of the international stature Mr. Khatami needs to succeed at home."

LES ECHOS: Khatami has won his bet

The French financial daily "Les Echos" calls the municipal election results "a reinforcement of civil society in Iran." In an editorial today, the papers writes: "Khatami has won his bet: to rely on civil society to reinforce his position in the face of the conservative establishment. ... Supporters of the head of state," the paper continues, "...are now in a position [in elections due in 18 months] to take control of parliament away from an ecclesiastical political class which has held all the levers of power for the past 20 years."

The paper is also struck by the number of Iranian women elected last Friday, writing: "Women greatly contributed to the 1997 election victory of Khatami, whose public discourse favors the promotion of women throughout Iranian society. Yesterday, in fact, Khatami again spoke of 'the equality of rights between men and women' in a speech to the women's university in Tehran."

Les Echos concludes: "The victory of the reformers had been expected, considering the large umber of voters who participated. But, in a country where political parties are still in infancy and political life is frequently dominated by factional maneuvers, this new reformist breakthrough could provoke a reaction from conservatives who had risked minimizing the importance of the ballot."