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Western Press Review: Iranian Reform, The EU's 'Conditional Support' For An Iraq Campaign, And Kaliningrad

  • Khatya Chhor

Prague, 3 September 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Analysis and commentary in the Western press today takes a look at renewed efforts at reform in Iran, the EU's guarded shift toward "conditional support" for possible military action in Iraq, the ineffectiveness of advanced military technology in combating terrorism, Russia's Kaliningrad exclave, and Russian President Vladimir Putin's Westward shift.


An editorial in "The New York Times" says Iran's reformist President Mohammad Khatami "issued a bold challenge" last week to the unelected mullahs who have "systematically thwarted his reform agenda." Khatami has now pledged to enact laws limiting clerical power and strengthening his own power to push through reforms. Iran's reformist parliament is likely to support the new laws, but the mullahs can nullify them through their control of Iran's Guardian Council.

"The New York Times" says Iranians "clearly yearn for a freer society with less clerical meddling in public and private life." Yet despite the reformist leanings of the elected leadership, "only marginal changes have taken place," and "efforts to free political speech and the press have been crushed."

Moreover, Iran's international isolation continues. The clerical leadership has discouraged much foreign trade and investment, opposed privatization, and protected the business affairs of "corrupt, clerically run foundations." As a result, the 70 percent of Iranians under age 30 often "face unemployment and a bleak future. Their hopes for a freer, more prosperous Iran depend on how much power Mr. Khatami can now wrest from a failed clerical leadership."


An editorial in Britain's "Financial Times" today says at the weekend gathering of EU foreign ministers in Denmark, most shifted from their "open hostility" to any military action against Baghdad and adopted a policy of "conditional support." This shift is "tentative," says the paper, but also "potentially significant."

The "FT" says there is inherent risk for the United States in acting unilaterally against Iraq. Such a move could have "devastating fallout in the Middle East, and on U.S. relations with the rest of the world." But the paper adds that for Europe to emphatically oppose U.S. action "could condemn it to marginalization and the unenviable task of trying to pick up the pieces afterwards."

Europe's immediate goal must be to pressure Washington "to make a clear and reasoned public case" for any potential action in Iraq, while also "pursuing every other option energetically in the UN Security Council." It is in U.S. interests to follow this strategy, the paper says, but it is likely to do so only if the EU "speaks with one voice."


An editorial in the German daily "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" says the issues surrounding Russia's Baltic Kaliningrad exclave "weighs heavily on German-Russian relations."

Russia fears Kaliningrad will become further isolated when the countries surrounding it -- Poland and Lithuania, both expected to join the EU in 2004 -- impose the visa restrictions demanded by the EU on Kaliningrad's residents. This would mean that not only would the exclave be isolated from "the Russian fatherland," but also surrounded by EU countries.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, the paper says, has so far rejected simplified visa proposals "on principle." German President Johannes Rau is now expected to make a "constructive contribution" to a solution on an official visit to Moscow. But since Rau has no authority with regard to German foreign policy, and since Germany is particularly careful -- for historic reasons -- to avoid this sensitive issue, the commentary suggests Rau "should confine himself to polite expressions without lowering himself to hypocrisy."


In a contribution to the "Financial Times," history professor and author Paul Kennedy of Yale University says despite a revolution in Western military technology, planning, and precision over the past century, Western powers are ill-equipped to respond to a decentralized threat like terrorism. He says when a Palestinian suicide bomber detonates aboard a bus, "two things become clear. The first is that for all its military power, Israel's long-term survival as a normal democracy and civil society is now doubtful, barring a mutual political settlement with the Palestinians." The second is that America's "astounding" military revolution is "of limited application when fighting a war among the shadows."

The military arsenal of the United States is the "apogee" of state-controlled warfare. "Yet, ironically, in today's fractured, war-torn, neo-medieval world it is quite inadequate to guarantee lasting peace and security," either at home or abroad. Kennedy questions whether the strategists in the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush "fully realize that fact."


A "Stratfor" (Strategic Forecasting) commentary today looks at allegations that an Israeli company was intercepted shipping military parts to Iran by German officials on 28 August. The commentary says the fact that the Israeli company, PAD, appears to be selling military equipment to Iran has highlighted the "shadowy ties" between the two countries.

"Stratfor" says the "idea that Israel and Iran could have active, covert relationships that both would deny [is] strange, but only if one takes absolutely seriously the ideological pronouncements of all sides." In a world of shifting, pragmatic alliances, it says, the possibility of Israeli-Iranian trade relations is not that surprising.

"Stratfor" says: "In fact, it is one of the critical features of the Middle East. Iran and Israel have a common enemy in Iraq. They are enemies not only of Saddam Hussein, but also of the various groups that he has created. The fact that Iran sponsors Hezbollah does not change the fact that Iraq also sponsors anti-Israeli groups. If Iran will help destroy those groups while still supporting Hezbollah, Israel is a net winner. And if Israel can help Iran defend itself, Iran is a net winner."

But "Stratfor" points out that such a relationship may also be due to the actions of a handful of enterprising individuals, and unrelated to government policy. "Anything is possible," it concludes.


Russian affairs analyst and author Marie Mendras says after the attacks of 11 September, Russian President Putin allied himself with Washington with more zeal than did many European nations. She says the Kremlin's avid support of the U.S. stem from the absolute necessity of Russia's partnership with Washington.

Russia lacks any true regional allies, which is now its "greatest weakness and its greatest failure in foreign policy since the collapse of the USSR." The Commonwealth of Independent States, or CIS, a grouping of 12 of the 15 former Soviet nations, "has evolved neither toward a common economic market nor toward an organization for regional security." The political, economic, and military links between Russia and these countries do exist, she says, but they are essentially treated as a bilateral foundation between Moscow and each of the capitals.

Mendras says Russia's shortcomings in leading multilateral regional politics prompt it to seek better relations with the United States. It is through this relationship that Russia feels most comfortable negotiating its position vis-a-vis Europe, its partnership with NATO, and its role in major regional conflicts. Moreover, Russia can heighten its status through the role that Washington accords it in the current geopolitical balance. Mendras says while the Russian president knew to seize the occasion after 11 September, he did not succeed in reviving a convincing Russian foreign policy.


With the forthcoming anniversary of the 11 September terrorist attack on the United States, Guido Heinen in Germany's "Die Welt" questions the achievements of the investigation into finding those responsible for the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks. Heinen says it is strange that the presumed culprits were identified with names, pictures, and dates of birth a few days after the attack, but that the follow-up search for those behind the plot has been so lengthy and unsuccessful.

Only now has the German federal Prosecutor-General issued the first set of indictments, says Heinen. But he asks, What happened to the hundreds and thousands who were arrested and interrogated in Europe and North America? What information about the crimes emerged from interrogations of Afghan prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba? What kind of successes did screening, wire tapping, and the cross-referencing of international data bring?

Our constitutional state is faced with no easy task, Heinen concedes, but it is to be hoped that the issue rests entirely on valid principles -- and that it is not the wrong track that is being pursued.


In the international edition of "Newsweek," editor Fareed Zakaria expresses the opinion that the popularity of radical political Islam -- on the rise ever since the Iranian Revolution of 1979 -- has already peaked, and is now on the wane. "Throughout the Arab world, much of the talk was about political Islam -- how to set up an Islamic state, implement Sharia [law], and practice Islamic banking."

But today, he says, the promise remains unfulfilled. "In Iran, the mullahs still reign but are despised." In Turkey, the Islamists are "liberals who want to move the country into the European Union. In Algeria, Egypt, and elsewhere they are a diminished lot, many of them re-examining their strategy of terror. If the governments bring them into the system," Zakaria predicts, "they will go from being mystical figures to local politicians."

But he says this does not mean that people in the Middle East "approve of American foreign policy, or that they have come to accept Israel." Some groups will still use terror tactics. But, he says, "people have stopped looking at Islamic fundamentalism as their salvation."

Today's youth in the Middle East have grown up "in cities and towns [and] have relatives living in the West." Most people have realized that Islamic fundamentalism does not provide "answers to the problems of the modern world. [They] don't want to replace Western modernity; they want to combine it with Islam."

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