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Western Press Review: High-Level Travel, Iraq, Europe

  • Joel Blocker

Prague, 23 February 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Some Western press commentary today touches on current high-level travel to and from the United States. There are also continuing analyses of U.S. policy toward Iraq as well as comments on migration to Western Europe and the importance of Eastern Europe to the European Union.


"Europe Comes Calling" is the title of a New York Times editorial dealing with today's scheduled talks at the presidential Camp David retreat between George W. Bush and visiting British Prime Minister Tony Blair. The paper remarks that the meeting with Blair is Bush's first with a European leader since taking office, and says: "Mr. Bush's presidency will be measured in part by whether he is able to maintain harmonious relations with Europe as America's allies seek a more independent role on security issues and try to encourage the consolidation of democracy and free markets in Russia. Mr. Blair, as the leader of Washington's most dependable ally, can play a critical role in resolving differences that may develop."

The editorial continues: "One of the most delicate trans-Atlantic issues today is the Bush administration's determination to build an elaborate missile defense system. Many European leaders are wary of the plan," the paper says, "fearing that a new arms race could develop if Washington breaks out of the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, which limits missile defenses." It adds: "The European concerns are warranted, and it is essential that Mr. Bush work with Russia to amend the treaty, if anti-missile technologies can be perfected. Moscow," the editorial notes, "adopted a more conciliatory tone on the issue this week."

The paper says that Bush and Blair will also discuss NATO's future. It writes: "The alliance's first round of eastward expansion, in 1999, provoked a nationalist backlash in Russia. The Bush administration has shown no inclination to rush ahead with the admission of additional members, which is wise." Repeating an argument it has stated in the past, the New York Times then adds: "There is no security need that requires further expansion, and any move to enlarge the alliance, especially by adding the Baltic nations of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, could lead to the estrangement of Russia from Europe."


Britain's Financial Times, in an editorial on the Camp David meeting, says that "it is to be hoped that the informal surroundings will not stop [the two leaders] having a serious exchange of views. It is important," the editorial goes on, "that there should be good chemistry between the U.S. president and the British prime minister and both will undoubtedly want to demonstrate that they are best buddies. But it is even more important that they use their first meeting to understand each other better -- and discuss not only the issues that unite them but those that may divide them, too."

The editorial says further: "This is a chance for Mr. Bush to get first-hand evidence of European views on vital questions of defense and international security, trade relations, and the world economy. [Mr.] Blair needs to explain European concerns about Mr. Bush's plans for National Missile Defense, while recognizing the genuine U.S. desire to defend itself against rogue states. He can also, better than anyone, argue the case for the European Union's defense initiative: that it should not be seen as an alternative to NATO. Neither leader," the paper adds, "should be side-tracked by nostalgic memories of a 'special relationship' [between Britain and the U.S.]."

The editorial concludes: "On some questions, such as containing Saddam Hussein in Iraq, Mr. Blair is certainly closer to Mr. Bush than other European leaders. On others, such as persuading the U.S. to remain part of the peacekeeping force in Kosovo, he can express a common concern. The two men," the paper says, "have different characters and different backgrounds, but if they understand each other, the world's most important strategic relationship -- between the U.S. and the EU -- will be well served."


As Blair meets with Bush, the new U.S. secretary of state, Colin Powell, today begins a four-day visit to the Middle East, his first trip abroad since taking office. The British weekly Economist says that the aim of the trip is "to shift the focus of America's Middle Eastern policy from Israel to Iraq." It writes in an editorial: "Bush has enjoyed his honeymoon in Washington by following a political version of Colin Powell's military doctrine: identify a few clear targets, aim for victory, marshal overwhelming force, have an exit strategy. Now," the magazine adds, " Mr. Powell is about to offend against all the tenets of his own doctrine. [He] begins his first foreign visit [by] going to that graveyard of expectations and destroyer of clarity, the Middle East. It is the first real test of Mr. Bush's intent to inject a new hard-headedness into foreign policy."

The Economist goes on to say: "The administration argues American authority and prestige have been lost in the region, largely because of the failure of the Oslo peace process in which -- Mr. Bush thinks -- Bill Clinton invested too much. The unstated aim of Mr. Powell's visit is to begin rebuilding that authority and the way he has chosen to do it would --- assuming he can carry it out -- shift the primary focus of American policy away from the Israeli-Palestinian peace process toward Iraq."

The magazine comments: "The idea is far from stupid: If America were able to neutralize or even overthrow Saddam Hussein, its regional prestige would indeed soar. But even leaving aside the tough question of what it can actually do about Saddam, there are doubts about whether America can even shift the focus in the way it wants. Mr. Clinton, after all, came into office promising to do much the same thing."

The editorial sums up: "The fraying of the Gulf War coalition -- as the Bush administration sees it -- was the product of America's obsession with the peace process. The Bush response is to start rebuilding those ties. This does not appear to be the sort of abrupt American unilateralism that many people fear," it says. "Rather, it makes more sense to see the new Bush administration as trying to rebuild the Gulf War coalition of George Bush senior. The main aim of the rebuilding is to tackle Saddam Hussein, which means in the first instance changing the sanctions regime. "


Writing in the U.S. daily Christian Science Monitor, commentator Daniel Schorr notes that several governments have condemned the most recent U.S.-British attacks on Iraqi anti-aircraft sites. He writes: "The broad-based coalition that made Desert Storm such a success has evaporated. NATO allies got no advance notice of the Anglo-American attack on Iraqi anti-aircraft sites. [Many] countries are urging the lifting of sanctions. Some, especially in the Arab world, are already bypassing them.

Schorr says further that Powell "is ready to talk of limited sanctions -- streamlined, he calls them - to spare children and other civilians. He is in a weak position," writes Schorr, "trying to save at least the embargo on weapons and dual-purpose technologies. The weakness," he adds, "can be measured in what has happened to Iraqi oil exports. [Ten] years after the war that President Bush the elder didn't finish, his antagonist is riding high with $1 billion a year in oil revenues, proclaiming himself the Islamic Saladin against the American and Israeli infidels. And Bush the younger faces a situation the more poignant for having been inherited from his father."


In Britain's Guardian daily, commentator Martin Woollacott says that whatever devastation has occurred in Iraq over the past 10 years, that devastation "is due to Saddam, not to sanctions." He writes: "The deterioration in the conditions of life in Iraq must have many causes, notably the devastation that Saddam brought on his country by waging war on Iran. The damage done in the Kuwait war was piled on top of that. A society which for a while had appeared to be flush with funds and which was engaged in pell-mell modernization and urbanization, highly dependent on imported items for its infrastructure, suddenly regressed. If it had been less developed, it would have been less damaged."

Woollacott's commentary goes on: "Saddam's government was peculiarly incapable of managing the resulting crisis. Quite apart from the ruthless diversion of funds to military spending, the Iraqi government is neither efficient or fair. It had operated for years a wasteful system of social bribery, selectively rewarding army, party, bureaucracy, and business class. [When] this could no longer be done, the circle within which people were sustained and rewarded by the government was redrawn, and those outside duly suffered."

"Sanctions certainly did not help," Woollacott concludes, "but the argument that they were contributory rather than central is strengthened by the fact that there has been no clear improvement in life for ordinary people in Iraq since they were run down. [Sanctions] might have worked," he adds, "had they not been quite so quickly subverted."


In the International Herald Tribune, columnist Flora Lewis writes that the "908 Kurds dumped just off a French beach [this week] by greedy smugglers are a reminder to the thriving nations of Europe that they have neighbors determined to enter what is seen as their land of plenty." She says further: "For several years the warnings have been sounded with increasing urgency but not much response. The pressure of migration from poor countries with bulging populations or internal violence is growing inexorably. Like global warming, it seems too awkward to confront and too demanding to prevent."

Lewis continues: "People know from television and films, as they never did before, what life looks like in the comfortable countries. Transportation is easily available. It is a matter of money, which can be scraped together in many cases, and permits that can be avoided, particularly with some more money." She adds: "Ease of movement, of people as well as goods and cash, is an essential element of the modern world that its beneficiaries don't want to abandon for themselves, even at the cost of having to let other people also get through more easily. The [EU's] Schengen agreement suppressing border controls is a great facility for citizens of participating countries, as well as for illegals."

The commentary concludes: "There is not going to be any quick, effective answer to the widening gap between rich and poor. Those development efforts which succeed in the reduction of poverty help to diminish the appeal of migration, but it is going to grow faster than anything done in trying either to lessen the incentive or increase the difficulty."


The Financial Times carries a commentary today by British-based analysts Judy Batt and Kataryna Wolczuk that urges the European Union to "keep an eye on the East [and] not ignore regions that fall outside its plans for enlargement." They write: "In 1984, [Czech writer] Milan Kundera's essay 'The Tragedy of Central Europe' forcefully reminded the West that Europe did not end at the Iron Curtain, the eastern border of what was then the European Community."

"Today," they add, "most of that central Europe is negotiating accession to the European Union. But the tragedy of central Europe is being replayed in the western-most regions of states that find themselves on the wrong side of the EU's future eastern border."

The commentary goes on: "EU enlargement, and deepening integration, have inescapable and unwelcome consequences for those left outside -- countries such as Romania, relegated to the back of the queue of candidates by the European Commission's most recent progress report, or Ukraine, whose problems many in the West would rather keep well beyond arm's length."

Batt and Wolczuk say further: "The EU Council of Ministers' December decision to end visa requirements for Bulgarians but not for Romanians -- just before the Romanian election -- illustrates the Union's insensitivity to the fate of regions on Europe's periphery. Inhabitants of these regions depend heavily on free border crossing for economic survival. Many hundreds of thousands of 'tourists' regularly travel west to work or trade."

The commentators sum up: "Kundera told us in 1984 that a Europe confined to its prosperous and peaceful west was incomplete. Eventually it would have to recognize the claims of Europeans beyond its own borders. Since 1989, the EU's mission has included wider responsibility for the stability of the continent. Enlargement is one part of that but the EU must also pay closer attention to the impact of its new borders on those left outside."