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Western Press Review: WTO Meeting; Chechnya; Iran; Iraq

  • Joel Blocker

Prague, 30 November 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Western press commentary remains focused on this week's much-publicized ministerial meeting of the 135-member World Trade Organization (WTO). The four-day trade-negotiations meeting begins today in the northwestern U.S. city of Seattle, where tens of thousand of protesters are expected to take to the streets. There is also continuing comment on Russia's war in Chechnya and recent developments in Iran and Iraq.

GLOBE AND MAIL: Almost nothing will be achieved for good or ill...

Canada's "Globe and Mail" newspaper carries a commentary on the WTO meeting by Gordon Ritchie, the diplomat who negotiated Canada's free-trade agreement with the U.S. He writes: "As events are shaping up, little good can come from the Seattle conference in the short run, and the potential for disaster is very real."

He goes on: "The challenge for [negotiators] in Seattle ... will be to strike a very fine balance between responding to real and painful concerns about the pace of globalization, without losing all momentum toward more open markets in the future ... In trade negotiations, high principles are fine, but, as negotiators like to say, the devil lives in the details."

The top of the "details" list for Ritchie is trade in foodstuffs. He writes: "The big threat here is the European Union. For all its much-vaunted commitment to liberalized trade, the EU's Common Agricultural Policy continues to wreak havoc with world markets. ... Nor do the major powers come to the negotiations with clean hands. Having reduced or eliminated tariffs and quotas on imports into the U.S., the Americans retain the right to put the barriers up again the moment competition gets too successful."

Ritchie concludes with some "good news," saying: "There will almost certainly be a declaration of success, [but] almost nothing will be achieved, for good or ill ... until new leadership in the US and Europe... is prepared to make the case for continuing the long march to economic prosperity through the opening of markets."

INFORMATION: WTO should stand as a guarantor for a kind of capitalism with a human face

The Danish daily "Information" writes in an editorial today: "The main purpose of the WTO meeting is to create a system of free trade that can cope with the challenges of a globalized economy." For the paper, the new system "should be an open, democratic and transparent [one] which ensures that human rights, consumers' rights, environmental concerns and labor relations are not stifled by unbridled capitalism. It should be a system where the rich countries do not press the poor ones out of existence, as has happened on a number of occasions in the past."

"Information" says further: "If the WTO is to turn into a success, it should stand as a guarantor for a kind of capitalism with a human face -- the kind of capitalism statesmen such as [the U.S.'s] Bill Clinton, [Britain's] Tony Blair and [Germany's] Gerhard Schroeder are so enthusiastic about. Otherwise," the paper warns, "globalization can become a nasty word."

WASHINGTON POST: The flamboyant fringe obscures the larger point about today's NGOs

In a commentary from Seattle for the "Washington Post," Sebastian Mallaby -- a member of the paper's editorial-page staff -- writes of the tens of thousands of mostly anti-globalization protesters assembled in Seattle. He says: "The NGO (non-governmental organization) community has descended on Seattle to take on the international trading system. Many of the lead players from previous NGO victories are there; they greet each other in hallways with the camaraderie of veterans. Their rhetoric paints the WTO as a proto-government possessed of frightening power, but their own clout is just as striking. The WTO has a budget of just $80 million a year and a staff of fewer than 500. NGO coalitions wield more money and have thousands of expert delegates in Seattle."

Mallaby continues: "This balance of power is obscured by the underdog pose of the more flamboyant NGOs, which get disproportionate attention. ... But the flamboyant fringe obscures the larger point about today's NGOs: Increasingly, the bigger ones resemble the official bodies that they criticize. They hire technocrats, publicity agents and ad men; they sit on government panels and broker international deals; they work the media to build popular support for them."

He concludes by asking: "Is this a hijacking of democracy by self-appointed advocates? Not really," he responds. "The WTO itself is undemocratic in its secrecy, and the NGOs are at least as legitimate as business lobbies. The world is not perfectly democratic, but it is increasingly pluralist. You just have to hope that this new diffusion of power won't wreck the world's trading system."

TRIBUNE DE GENEVE: The opposition movement is providing new evidence that man is not entirely impotent in the face of history

In Switzerland's "Tribune de Geneve," a signed editorial by the paper's economic-affairs editor Elizabeth Dunning also concentrates on the protesters in Seattle. Under the headline "A Jubilant Opposition," she writes: "Almost without our being aware of it, and little by little, a new phenomenon has come into being. Some call it an anti-liberal international, others prefer to insist on its 'civic' virtues. In any case, its great moment is now occurring in Seattle just outside the hall where the WTO meeting is taking place. Some 50,000 to 100,000 are expected to march there, to demonstrate that globalization is not irreversible and that all negotiations must place human above economic concerns."

"Only a short while ago," Dunning goes on, "such tirades amused many by their navet and their refusal to accept the reality of 'a global village.' Today, things are different and there is jubilation among opposition groups in Seattle. ... Many now question whether globalization should be put on a par with the [biblical] Ten Commandments. European farmers, US truck drivers, South American Indian ecologists and Indonesian industrialists now together demand that the machine of free trade be slowed down, indeed stopped entirely."

The editorialist sums up: "Whether it triumphs or not, this disparate opposition movement is providing new evidence for the idea that man is not entirely impotent in the face of history."

GUARDIAN: We must try coercion

Britain's "Guardian" newspaper today devotes its lead editorial to Russia's military campaign in the breakaway republic of Chechnya. The paper says Moscow "is under no pressure to stop the killing" in Chechnya, for two reasons. In the editorial's words: "Most Russians, while agreeing that Chechnya is a part of Russia, apparently have little sympathy for their fellow citizens. [And] many in the West seem to have accepted that it is an internal matter, that Russia is a nuclear power, that there is nothing much to be done."

"The war in Chechnya," the editorial goes on, "has now acquired a momentum all its own. It has become an end in itself, and this, too, suits the Russians. ... What might not suit the Russians?" the paper then asks. It answers: "A suspension of IMF [International Monetary Fund] and World Bank lending, and [a suspension as well] of bilateral financial, technical and trade support."

"Diplomacy," concludes the "Guardian," "has got nowhere, as yesterday's snubbing [in Moscow] of the OSCE's (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe) envoy [Kurt Vollebaek] again demonstrated. So we must try coercion. And we must shout louder, so that the cries from [Chechnya's] rubble be heard."

POLITIKEN: Morality in Russia has suffered a severe blow

In Denmark, the daily "Politiken" says in an editorial: "After his first 100 days in office, Russia's Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has become the country's most popular politician -- partly because he was so unknown when President Boris Yeltsin appointed him four months ago, partly because Yeltsin's own popularity is at an all-times low. Putin has managed to attract the hearts and minds of the Russians because he has appeared to be the law-and-order man they have so ardently sought."

The editorial continues: "Putin's record on the economy and the war in Chechnya has been unsatisfactory. The main reason for his popularity, tragically, is his racism." The paper explains: "Every nation has its underdogs, but many more of those have emerged in Russia since the beginning of the latest war in the breakaway republic. All Chechens are now called 'terrorists' and 'bandits' -- even by the most liberal politicians, who fear losing support in the run-up to next month's parliamentary elections next month."

The paper concludes: "Racism against the Chechens has thus become a political weapon. Putin has made great gains using this weapon. But morality in Russia has suffered a severe blow."

NEW YORK TIMES: Clerics will face mounting opposition if they fail to understand the demand for liberalization

The "New York Times" comments today on the jailing of what it calls "one of Iran's most popular and courageous political reformers," Abdullah Nouri. The paper's editorial says that Nouri "has been unjustly sentenced to five years in prison and banned from running for office until 2004. His alleged crime consisted of publishing newspaper articles critical of official Iranian policies." It adds: "That such a harsh sentence could be imposed for exercising basic journalistic freedoms is a measure of how fearful and out of touch Iran's ruling conservative clerics have become in the face of popular demands for greater democracy and individual liberty."

The editorial continues: "The pressure for change is likely to be the main theme of crucial parliamentary elections to be held in February. Until his sentencing last Saturday, Nouri was to lead the ticket of candidates pledged to support the reformist policies of President Mohammad Khatami." But now, the editorial adds, "reformers must continue their parliamentary election campaign without Nouri, who was a top vote-getter in municipal elections earlier this year. His forced exclusion from politics follows last year's imprisonment of another leading reformer, Gholamhossein Karbaschi, the mayor of Tehran."

The paper writes further: "If Khatami and his reform allies can overcome the handicap of these exclusions and win a parliamentary majority, they may be able to diminish some clerical powers. With control of military and internal security forces, conservative clerics can, for now, stifle the aspirations of Iranians. But with nearly two-thirds of the population of 70 million under the age of 25, the clerics will face mounting opposition if they fail to understand the demand for liberalization."

WASHINGTON POST: The U.S. will face an uphill task in ensuring that the new inspections regime is meaningful

The "Washington Post" underlines the importance of continuing to monitor closely Iraq's arsenal of mass-destruction weapons. The paper wrote in an editorial yesterday: "For more than a year, Iraq has been without weapons inspectors. Last week, the Pentagon reported that Saddam Hussein is taking advantage of this absence to build up his war machine, possibly including chemical or biological weapons. If Iraq develops a weapon that can, say, devastate Tel Aviv, the balance of power in the region will be dangerously altered."

The editorial goes on: "The U.S. and Britain, supported for a change by France, are trying to get Russia to sign on to a new [UN] Security Council resolution that would require Iraq to accept the return of weapons inspectors; if Russia agrees, China may choose to go along rather than be isolated. In order to get the Russians on board, the Western powers may be tempted to make the new inspection team look different from the old one. ... [But] the [U.S.] administration must persist in rejecting a Russian demand that sanctions on Iraq be lifted the moment inspectors are let back in. ... [And] the administration must [also] resist ideas that would dilute the inspection team's effectiveness."

Even if Washington gets its way on these matters, says the "Washington Post," "it will face an uphill task in ensuring that the new inspections regime is meaningful. ... Moreover, it will take some fierce diplomacy to get the inspectors into Iraq, even if the Security Council gives them a mandate. Saddam Hussein probably will assume that if he rejects inspections, the alternative is more sanctions that hurt ordinary Iraqis without hurting his power base." The paper concludes that Saddam, in its words, "must be made to abandon this assumption. The alternative to inspections that he needs to hear about is renewed international support for his removal."

(Anthony Georgieff in Copenhagen contributed to this report.)