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Western Press Review: Bush Addresses The UN On Iraq, Arafat's Parliament Dissolves, And European Elections

  • Khatya Chhor

Prague, 12 September 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Discussion in the Western media turns to Iraq today, as U.S. President George W. Bush prepares to address the UN General Assembly regarding a possible U.S.-led military operation in Iraq. Throughout the debate over military action, many U.S. allies in Europe and elsewhere have urged the U.S. to obtain a UN resolution ahead of a potential strike.

Other topics addressed today include the resignation yesterday of the 21 members of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's cabinet and the upcoming elections that will shape Europe's future.


Co-editor of the magazine "American Prospect" and regular columnist Robert Kuttner writes in "The Boston Globe" today that only days ago, the U.S. administration had dismissed the idea of renewing weapons inspections in Iraq, and officials were insisting they would, and could, "go it alone" on a military campaign. But now, says Kuttner, "in an effort to boost faltering public support" for a war, U.S. President George W. Bush "is evidently willing to give inspections one last try."

Bush's "belated appeal for UN support is also a grudging acceptance of international law," Kuttner writes. Nations "are not supposed to launch preemptive wars, except as part of collective security efforts with the blessing of the international community."

Within the United States, Bush is likely to request the U.S. Congress to endorse an ultimatum on inspections, combined with support for military action if Baghdad refuses. If Bush can secure congressional support, Kuttner says his Republican Party will be well-placed before November's mid-term elections. War talk "crowds out other election issues such as the [faltering] economy," he says.

Kuttner remarks that the U.S. administration "knew that Saddam Hussein was a menace" from the moment it took office. "Given that little new intelligence information has been produced to justify a preemptive war," Kuttner says the pre-election timing of the Iraq issue "is more than a little suspect."


In "The Times" of London, economics analyst Anatole Kaletsky says the likely outcome of the U.S. president's address to the UN General Assembly will be a resolution on Iraq that goes beyond inspections and authorizes military action to enforce earlier UN resolutions, including the 1991 cease-fire agreement. Such a resolution, he says, could force Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein to strike a deal.

Kaletsky predicts that some sort of "peaceful compromise is now the most likely outcome of the U.S.-Iraq confrontation." But he says if the Iraqi leader refuses to comply with a UN ultimatum -- "either because he believes it to be a bluff, or simply because he is mad" -- a war in Iraq would be inevitable. Kaletsky adds, however, that a war to enforce a UN ultimatum would be "totally different from a unilateral U.S. attack on Iraq."

First, he says, a UN-backed war "would be much more likely to succeed, and to do so quickly, [because] it would provide the justification for Iraq's neighbors to act as staging posts" for operations. Such a war "could be won quickly, with minimal casualties and costs."

Secondly, such a war would help make the world a "more stable place, by reinforcing the concept of international law and the power of the UN system to enforce it." A unilateral U.S. action against Iraq would have "neither of these desirable characteristics."


An editorial in the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" today discusses the latest developments on the political scene in Palestine, following the resignation yesterday of the 21-member cabinet of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

The commentary says: "There is, after all, something like democracy in the Arab world," adding that Arafat has failed in his political maneuvers. Although the anger of the parliamentarians was vented on the government, in actual fact it was aimed at him.

It say Arafat has "inexcusably ignored" his parliament. Since the beginning of the intifada two years ago, this is only the second time it has convened. This government crisis, the commentary says, is the result of the accumulation of aggravations on several counts: the ineffectual reaction to Israeli attacks since April, Arafat's agreement to the deportation of Palestinians trapped in a church in Bethlehem in April, the ambivalence regarding armed campaigns against Israel, and, above all, Arafat's autocratic style of governing.

The paper says it is commendable that the members of parliament have not taken into account the possible mockery from Israel. For "an open, democratic political style will bring the Palestinians closer to the establishment of a state than the usual Arab autocratic style."

"Parliament has produced a slight sign of hope," the commentary concludes.


In Britain's "Financial Times," Carola Hoyos and Richard Wolffe say that when U.S. President George W. Bush addresses the UN General Assembly today, he will be issuing "a stark challenge" to the 15-member Security Council. In the past week, U.S. administration officials "have cast the Iraqi threat as a dagger pointed at the heart of the UN's credibility." Some U.S. observers say the UN's failure to enforce the resolutions it has placed on Iraq in the past has eroded confidence in the international body.

While they say the White House will not deliver an ultimatum on Iraq, there is an implied challenge: "If the Security Council fails to regain the prominent role it played immediately before and after the Gulf War against Iraq, the U.S. is ready to act on its own."

Authors Hoyos and Wolffe say that as the post-Cold War era emerged, "the UN looked as if it could be the cement in the new world order." But today, "after a decade of drift on Iraq, the UN faces an existential test: to find a meaningful role in preventing conflict and ensuring world security, when its most powerful member appears determined to go to war to ensure world security."


The German paper "Die Welt" carries a commentary today by Paul Spiegel, president of Germany's Jewish Central Council, who ponders the rights and wrongs of warfare in general, and with regard to Iraq in particular.

He questions the ethics of German policy in its outright rejection of participation in a war against Iraq. "Yet we are all agreed on the lowest common denominator: Saddam Hussein is a brutal dictator, who is unscrupulous in dealing with his own people as well as his enemies."

Spiegel, in arguing in favor of action, says it is a question of doing the right thing at the right moment. He recalls World War II and the initial reluctance of the allies to fight Adolph Hitler and the disastrous consequences for the victims of the Holocaust.

It is simple to oppose war, says Spiegel, but we must consider the broader picture and question whether we are willing to preserve peace at all costs. "We really must consider when a war is worth fighting -- or rather, when "we must fight, if we are to survive as men, as a species and as individuals."


In "The Wall Street Journal Europe," Matthew Kaminski takes a look at several upcoming elections that promise to shape the future of Europe. At stake, he says, "is nothing less than peace in the Balkans and the future makeup" of the European Union and NATO.

On 15 September, Macedonians go to the polls in a vote that is "about peace or war" between ethnic Albanians and ethnic Macedonians. The West is hoping reformed rebel leader Ali Ahmeti and his moderate party will win the Albanian vote. If the ruling VMRO nationalists lose power, a "new, moderate Slavic-Albanian coalition" could be formed.

On 20-21 September there are elections in Slovakia, and Kaminski says the country may finally put the legacy of autocratic former Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar to rest. While Meciar remains popular in opinion polls, "no other party will likely risk asking him into government." If they do, Kaminski says, Slovakia "can forget about getting into NATO and the EU anytime soon."

Serbia's 29 September elections pit Yugoslavia's President Vojislav Kostunica against his bitter political rival, Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic. But Kaminski says this election is not over Serbia's soul as much as "the nitty-gritty of stalled economic reforms" and relations with the West.

Bosnia-Herzegovina's vote on 5 October will be its sixth election in seven years. Kaminski says the recent success of multiethnic political groupings "are overshadowed by the continuing dominance of corrupt nationalist parties that started the war," and which keep Bosnia unstable.


This month's "Le Monde Diplomatique" includes a piece by commentator Alain Gresh in which he discusses the U.S. administration's rationale for going to war with Iraq.

Administration officials have repeatedly insisted that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein has invaded his neighbors in the region and has used chemical weapons against his own people. These allegations are "irrefutable," says Gresh. In September 1980, Iraq attacked Iran, "starting one of the most bloody conflicts since World War II; [Iraq] effectively used chemical weapons and then gassed 5,000 Iraqi Kurds in Halabja in March 1988."

But did the U.S. declare war then? Gresh asks rhetorically. He notes that in 1984, then-U.S. President Ronald Reagan re-established diplomatic relations with Baghdad and took it off the list of states sponsoring terrorism.

During the administration of former President George H.W. Bush (1989-1993), U.S. companies, "with the backing of the State Department, were exporting products to Iraq that could be used to make biological weapons." The international community, he says, preoccupied throughout the 1990s with Iraq's plans to develop weapons of mass destruction, has "never investigated the foreign companies that helped Iraq."

Gresh says many Western governments -- including the U.S., Germany, and France -- were also involved.

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