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Western Press Review: Tensions On The Subcontinent, Missed Warnings Of 11 September, And Trans-Atlantic Relations

  • Khatya Chhor

Prague, 27 May 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Several commentaries in the Western press both today and over the weekend discuss the risk of a nuclear confrontation between India and Pakistan, as shelling continues within the disputed region of Kashmir. Other attention is focused on what information the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush had access to before the 11 September attacks which might have averted the tragedy had preventative measures been taken. Other issues addressed include forsaking military tactics for a political solution in Chechnya, trans-Atlantic differences over policy on Iran, and other persistent complexities of the U.S.-European relationship.

THE WASHINGTON POST:

An editorial in "The Washington Post" says India and Pakistan have escalated their rhetoric to a point from which it will be difficult to back down. Both sides have advised their military forces to prepare for a decisive war to settle the long-standing dispute over the Kashmir region. The editorial says neither of these nuclear powers wants full-scale war, but "the risk is growing that they will nevertheless stumble into one, with catastrophic consequences."

The paper says the recent attack by Kashmiri extremists on women and children at an army base in an Indian-controlled part of Kashmir shows that Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has failed to crack down on Pakistan-based militant groups as promised. The paper says New Delhi appears to be operating under the belief that, "by making clear its readiness to go to war, it will force the United States to extract concessions from Musharraf, who has positioned himself as a key U.S. ally since 11 September."

If this tactic fails, says the "Post," India may conduct strikes on militant camps within Pakistan. But the paper says this is a strategy that "invites a chain of failure." The U.S. administration may not be able to spur action from Musharraf, and India's subsequent military strike while intended to be limited -- may "quickly spiral out of control."

THE NEW YORK TIMES:

An editorial in "The New York Times" today calls for an independent inquiry into the failures of U.S. intelligence that caused several potential warning signs to go unheeded in the months leading up to the 11 September attacks. The paper refers to the "monumental ineptitude and bureaucratic bumbling" by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, America's primary internal law-enforcement organization.

The paper advises the administration of President George W. Bush and the U.S. Congress to "move immediately to establish an independent investigative commission with the authority, expertise, and financial support necessary" to determine why Washington failed to recognize the threat of an attack, and why various law enforcement agencies "either failed to detect or mishandled warning signs." Furthermore, the paper says, "there was unquestionably a terrible intelligence failure, for which the [Central Intelligence Agency] and other spy organizations owe a proper accounting to the American people."

The paper goes on to criticize two other U.S. government organizations -- the State Department and the Immigration and Naturalization Service -- for their failure "to do adequate background checks on many of the 11 September hijackers before they were issued visas and allowed to settle in the United States." "The New York Times" calls the emerging picture "too large and complex to be left in the hands of the intelligence committees." In addition, it says, "[given] their oversight of the CIA and its fellow spy agencies, [these] committees bear some responsibility for the pre-11 September record."

FRANKFURTER ALLGEMEINE ZEITUNG:

Today's "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" comments on the visit of U.S. President George W. Bush to Russian President Vladimir Putin's native St. Petersburg, which brought to an end the three-day bilateral summit between the two leaders. The summit's most noteworthy achievement was the 24 May signing of an agreement committing both nations to reducing their nuclear arsenals to no more than 2,200 warheads by 2012. But the paper compares Putin's renewed relations with the West to the illusory "Potemkin village" of old, saying Putin has in fact failed to secure a place for Russia among the Western nations.

The editorial notes that although the EU has sought a Russian rapprochement for a decade -- as has the U.S. since 11 September -- "only the facade has changed," and the West "would like to see the facade transformed into reality." The commentary suggests that in fact, a deplorable state of affairs prevails in Russia -- notably in Chechnya, which prevents Russia's entry into a "better world." The commentary concludes that it is thus impossible to take seriously Putin's words expressing Russia's changed world view.

EURASIA VIEW:

In the daily "Eurasia View," CIS affairs analyst and regular commentator Igor Torbakov says that there is a growing realization among Russian policymakers that the Kremlin's stance on Chechnya must change. He says several analysts are now arguing that "a political as opposed to military approach on Chechnya would do more to enhance Russian security" overall. A continuing military campaign, they add, works against both Russia's foreign and domestic policy goals. Torbakov says there are also indications that President Vladimir Putin "agrees on the need for a policy shift" in the region.

Russia's pursuit of closer relations with the West in the months since the 11 September attacks on the U.S. may be undermined by its Chechen campaign. Russia's military operations, "featuring massive human rights abuses, has raised questions about Russia's credibility," says Torbakov. "The stubborn attempt to resolve the Chechen conflict by force also has undermined Russia's principal internal policy objective -- the stabilization of the entire Caucasus region. Not only does the Chechen conflict erode security throughout southern Russia, it also destabilizes Russia's neighbors in the Caucasus -- especially Georgia and Azerbaijan."

Russia may now be seeking U.S. aid targeted at stabilizing "hot spots" in the Caucasus -- particularly Chechnya, Daghestan, Nagorno-Karabakh, and Abkhazia. And Torbakov says Russia is aware that in return for such assistance, Washington may demand the establishment of democratic programs in Chechnya. Torbakov suggests Putin's recent moves may indicate that he is now "serious about a political settlement for Chechnya."

FINANCIAL TIMES:

An editorial in Britain's "Financial Times" looks at differing policies on Iran among the U.S., Russia, and Europe. "Weapons of mass destruction and their potential links with terrorism are seen in Washington as the greatest threat to national security after 11 September," the paper says. So Russia's cooperation with Iran on building a nuclear reactor has caused some concern in the U.S. The paper suggests that ideally, Russia should abandon its contract with Iran for the Bushehr nuclear plant. At the very least, it says, Russia should "provide guarantees that its assistance to Tehran is limited to running a nuclear reactor."

The editorial says increased Russian cooperation on nonproliferation "would help forge a more useful and united Western policy towards Iran." The more reassurances the U.S. receives regarding the perceived threat from Iran, the more willing it will be "to listen to European pleas for a more nuanced policy toward Tehran. In the view of European governments, concerns about suspected Iranian weapons procurement and backing for militant Middle Eastern groups are best dealt with through a policy of constructive engagement," notes the editorial.

The paper says while the U.S. "should continue pressing Russia to adopt a stricter attitude toward Iran's suspected procurement of weapons of mass destruction," the U.S. should "also consider European arguments that a hard-line approach risks bolstering Iranian extremists" -- as well as undermining President Mohammad Khatami's attempts at reform.

INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE:

A commentary by William Pfaff in the "International Herald Tribune" also looks at trans-Atlantic policy differences. Disagreements are most pronounced regarding Iran and Iraq, he says. As Pfaff puts it, "Europeans think that Iraq's Saddam Hussein is a containable menace. They say he is like a dozen other Middle Eastern despots who have come, seen their day, and gone. Between American satellite and other technical intelligence on Iraq, and the UN and other international presences in his country, not much important goes on that is not known."

The scenarios of an Iraqi threat are not realistic, he says. "Attacks of mass destruction on the United States or Israel? What is Saddam Hussein to gain from strategically irrational attacks on these countries?" Pfaff asks. The Iraqi leader "certainly shows no suicidal tendencies -- quite the contrary," he says.

Pfaff observes that to most of Western Europe, Iran is "on its way back toward occupying a normal place in international society. The internal struggle between Islamic rigorists and reformers goes on, but the worst weight of intolerance has lifted."

Neither Iraq or Iran seem to Europeans "to present problems that another war would solve," Pfaff writes. In positioning itself on these issues so counter to its European allies, Pfaff says the U.S. is unintentionally "giving a big boost to European unification."

LE MONDE:

An editorial in France's daily "Le Monde" looks at the new relationship between Russia and the United States, codified in last week's signing of the Treaty of Moscow. "Le Monde" says this new alliance rests largely on the commitment of the two presidents. America's George W. Bush at first underestimated the importance of Russia, believing it to be a marginal power in the new international order. But he quickly understood that Russia's strategic position, natural resources, links to ex-Soviet republics, and its remaining nuclear capability lend it significant global status.

For his part, Russian President Vladimir Putin played his limited cards well and recognized the benefits of allying with the U.S. "Le Monde" says Putin may not have had any choice other than to allow the U.S. to set up military bases in Central Asia. But "by giving his agreement to the inevitable, the Russian president could hope for economic returns indispensable to the modernization of Russia."

"Le Monde" says it would be nice to believe partnership with the West will lead to Russia's political modernization based on democratic principles, such as respect for human rights and media freedom. But this is "regrettably far from being the case, and is not the main concern of the Americans, who hold up the fight against terrorism as the central tenet of the international order. Commitment to democracy in Russia will have to wait for better days," writes "Le Monde."

FRANKFURTER RUNDSCHAU:

Rolf Paasch, in the "Frankfurter Rundschau," looks at Russian attempts to reduce the conflict between India and Pakistan over Kashmir. A Russian envoy is heading to Pakistan today in a bid to help ease tensions.

Paasch says much could be gained in preventing a further escalation of violence if Russia could persuade the two antagonists to sit at the same negotiating table. The paper goes on to say that at present, Pakistani leader Pervez Musharraf seems to believe the best response to India's hostile rhetoric are the Pakistani missile tests that have been fired in the past two days. Paasch, however, is of the opinion that "what is supposed to be a sign of strength is usually an indication of insecurity. For the [president's] reputation has suffered and, internationally, he stands once again in the pillory, since Pakistan has renounced terror in Afghanistan, but not in Kashmir."

It is up to the Russians to explore the situation, says Paasch, as the diplomatic potential and the desire to negotiate are seriously limited. Much could be gained under the circumstances if Russia manages to persuade the two antagonists to meet in Kazakhstan and end their spiral of retaliation as a first step. Then the issue of Kashmir could be tabled, he says.

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

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