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Western Press Review: EU Immigration Policy And Al-Qaeda's Balkan Connection

  • Khatya Chhor

Prague, 1 November 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Commentary and analysis in the Western press today looks at British Prime Minister Tony Blair's current shuttle-diplomacy efforts in the Middle East; the upcoming World Trade Organization conference in Doha, Qatar; the future of immigration and labor policy in Europe; and avoiding the mistakes of Kosovo in the Afghanistan campaign. Other issues include Al-Qaeda's Balkan links and how the antiterrorism campaign sheds a spotlight on class inequalities.


A commentary in the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" by columnist Wolfgang Gunter Lerch looks at British Prime Minister Tony Blair's whirlwind trip through the Arab world this week. Lerch says Blair is "the ideal person to hold together the crumbling antiterror front in the Middle East." He notes that the prime minister is the first of the G-7 leaders since 11 September to visit Israel, where he campaigned for a resumption of peace talks, asserting that "political process in the Middle East [is] essential for the fight against terror."

Further, Lerch writes: "In Damascus, [Blair] requested that Syrian President Bashar Assad restrain the country's radical Palestinian groups. Despite all differences of opinion, Mr. Assad will comply, not least because he has no desire to kindle any conflagrations in his own country." In Saudi Arabia, he adds, the British prime minister "had an easier task," because while the Saudi ruling family previously supported the Taliban, they are now also targeted by suspected terrorist Osama bin Laden and his Al-Qaeda operatives.


In the "Financial Times," an editorial says that "few people have done more recently to further the cause of trade liberalization than Osama bin Laden. The events of September 11, and the ensuing geopolitical and economic instability, have helped to focus minds and to reorder priorities." The paper goes on to consider upcoming World Trade Organization talks in Doha, Qatar. It writes: "Initiating a round of world trade talks is now essential to restoring confidence in the economy and in multi-lateral cooperation in general." But the paper notes there are security concerns regarding the meeting, leading some participants to consider canceling or moving it to another region of the world.

The paper writes: "Cancellation would offend Qatar and possibly other Middle Eastern states that support the anti-terrorism coalition. It would play into the hands of those who say that globalization brings little to developing countries, least of all Muslim ones. And it would send a signal that there are many places where representatives of the world's strongest power fear to tread. Pressing ahead would demonstrate U.S. determination to take up a crucial chance to move the trade agenda forward and to return to business as usual."


A contribution to the "International Herald Tribune" by Ivo Daalder and Michael O'Hanlon of the Brookings Institution think-tank says that the lessons of the Kosovo campaign should be heeded when implementing the military operation in Afghanistan. When the United States and NATO fought against Serbia in 1999, the authors say, "the initial effort was rightly derided as inadequate." Ground forces had been ruled out and the bombing campaign "suggested that political and military leaders expected a relatively short, easy campaign." Daalder and O'Hanlon say that the initial effort in Afghanistan "bears a disturbing resemblance to the Kosovo war. The air effort has been paltry." The authors note that concern about civilian casualties and the need to maintain broad international support for the mission help explain why the bombing campaign has been slow. But they write that, as in Kosovo, "the answer [is] not to modulate the military effort but to strike swiftly and severely with whatever force necessary to achieve a certain and rapid victory." In addition, they say, "humanitarian aid efforts to avert mass starvation in the months ahead should be stepped up, [including] setting up safe areas for refugees to gain access to food and shelter."


A commentary in the Stratfor intelligence monitor says that recent revelations of terrorist cells active in Europe are strengthening the position of anti-immigration advocates throughout the continent. Calls for tighter immigration policies and restrictions on labor movement now have added relevance. Stratfor says that terrorism concerns may succeed in hampering efforts to allow the "free movement of labor across the continent while raising tensions within the European Union. Both immigration and the free movement of labor are integral to the long-term economic growth of a demographically maturing Europe. Retrenchment on these issues, either by Brussels or by select national governments, will put additional pressures on the European labor market, pension systems and economic growth."

But EU officials, it says, "rightly recognize that the long-term health of the European economy depends on a more flexible labor market. Likewise, in the longer term, Europe faces declining birth and mortality rates, meaning the ratio of older pensioners to youthful workers will fall. This will put pressure on already overextended government pension plans." Stratfor concludes: "Tighter immigration and labor policies would be bad news for the long-term health of the European economy as well as for European unity. [Labor] flexibility will also help keep Europe more competitive. As Europe struggles to become more cohesive, immigration will remain a divisive issue."


In light of threats of new terrorist attacks, Michael Stuermer in "Die Welt" criticizes the EU's lack of concerted action with regard to defense. Suddenly, he says, individual states are taking the initiative. German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder is traveling to Pakistan. Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer offers advice on the Middle East crisis.

But terrorism is prompting a moment of truth, Stuermer says. He writes that the import and jurisdiction of national states in Europe "can only be secure thanks to common action. The EU is not just a fair-weather institution."

The EU's role has changed, he says. Everything has taken on a new image, and Brussels must rethink its policy. Even more important for the EU, Stuermer emphasizes, is to consider preparations for the future peace, even while war is raging.

"That is the genuine task of the EU," he says. The Americans will handle the military aspects to a large extent, Stuermer says, while Europe must participate in the peace that follows -- in promoting human rights and civil norms, which will, at least to a certain degree, neutralize the threat of new terrorist attacks.


In "The Washington Post," E. J. Dionne considers recent criticisms that the U.S. authorities were much slower to test postal workers for anthrax than they were to test the high-profile media and government figures who received contaminated mail. To date, two postal workers have died from inhalation anthrax.

Dionne says that it is a problem that postal workers "were ranked last in the treatment pecking order. We knew with absolute certainty that anthrax-tainted mail was passing through the postal system," he says. "We knew which post offices had handled the letters."

What happened in this case forces the U.S. to "confront the reality of class," says Dionne. Most people at the top of a society "don't have a lot of curiosity about how the other half lives," he remarks. Dionne writes: "[Postal] workers have good reason to wonder why they weren't at the top of anyone's priority list. We worried about those on the receiving end of the letters. We didn't seem to think a lot about the people who handled and delivered the letters. Nobody has anything against these good souls," he says. "Most of the time, we just act as if they aren't even there."


An analysis in France's "Liberation" by Pascal Riche says the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency is ready to do "anything" in order to find a lead in its investigation into the 11 September attacks. Riche notes that CIA officials visited the Syrian capital in October seeking information, while some weeks ago Syria was considered a dangerous "rogue" state for its support of Hezbollah.

Since the attacks, says Riche, the CIA has made other "inconceivable" alliances. In London, an official from the Libyan information agency -- a nation also accused of planning attacks on Western interests -- was approached by CIA officers. U.S. agents have also been in contact with Sudan, a county that sheltered suspected terrorist Osama bin Laden in the early 1990s.

Riche writes: "The Sudanese had, repeatedly, offered to give the CIA information on the bin Laden network, even before the attacks. But the Americans refused any cooperation with the Khartoum regime." Today, Riche says ironically, "relations have abruptly gotten better," noting that the U.S. State Department sent a delegation to the Sudanese capital in late October.

Riche says that, in the war against terrorism, "a lack of information seems to be more and more the Achilles' heel of the United States."


In the Asian edition of "The Wall Street Journal," Marcia Christoff Kurop, former editor of the "Defense News" weekly, considers the Balkans as a source of funding for suspected terrorist Osama bin Laden and his Al-Qaeda network.

Kurop says that by taking advantage of the unsettled diplomatic situation following the Bosnia and Kosovo conflicts, Al-Qaeda has "burrowed [its] way into Europe's backyard." Kurop writes: "For the past 10 years, the most senior leaders of Al-Qaeda have visited the Balkans, including bin Laden himself.... The Egyptian surgeon-turned-terrorist leader Ayman Al-Zawahiri has operated terrorist training camps, weapons of mass destruction factories and money-laundering and drug-trading networks throughout Albania, Kosovo, Macedonia, Bulgaria, Turkey and Bosnia."

Kurop goes on to note that the Kosovo Liberation Army, which received U.S. and NATO military support during the conflict, may have also had ties to drug-trafficking and Islamic terrorism. Kurop writes: "With the future status of Kosovo still in question, the only real development that may be said to be taking place there is the rise of Wahhabi Islam -- the puritanical Saudi variety favored by bin Laden and the fastest growing variety of Islam in the Balkans. Today, in general, the Balkans are left without the money, political resources or institutional strength to fight a war on terrorism. And that, for the Balkan Islamists, is a godsend."

(RFE/RL's Dora Slaba contributed to this report.)