Prague, 30 September 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Analysis and commentary in the Western press today and over the weekend look at allegations that Ukraine approved the sale of a sophisticated radar system to Iraq; how U.S. plans for Saddam Hussein pose a challenge for the UN Security Council; and the connection between Russia, Iraqi oil, and the United States; among other issues.
In the London-based "Financial Times," Carola Hoyos and Quentin Peel discuss the challenge that hte U.S. stance on Iraq poses for the United Nations Security Council. U.S. President George W. Bush says the decision over what to do about Iraq's alleged procurement of weapons of mass destruction poses "the ultimate test for the relevance and power of the United Nations."
Iraq has thus far failed to comply with several UN resolutions restricting its weapons capability. But Hoyos and Peel say most of the 190 UN member states see the issue "as the ultimate test of U.S. willingness to pursue a multilateral route in international relations, instead of going it alone."
The crucial issue now, they say, is whether a new resolution will authorize the United States to take immediate military action if Iraq fails to comply. The authors cite Davis Malone of the International Peace Academy as saying if the United States ultimately acts alone, "the authority of the Security Council will be eroded and the foundations of international law greatly undermined."
But as the prospect of military action approaches, Hoyos and Peel say it becomes more clear that any military action undertaken without allied support poses palpable risks for the United States. They conclude that the mutual benefit offered by a multilateral approach indicates that a deal within the Security Council "could yet be done."
THE NEW YORK TIMES:
In "The New York Times," David Sanger says Iraq's tougher stance in the past few days and its stated refusal to comply with any new UN resolution -- instead, insisting that compliance with past resolutions is sufficient -- has given Washington new reason to believe that some of its hesitant allies might become more convinced of the need for an Iraqi "regime change." But Sanger says it will be "a week or two" before it is known whether Russian, Chinese, or French leaders will start to see the issue Washington's way.
Iraq's more strident rhetoric has "focused the argument over whether the right goal is to try to disarm Iraq or replace its government," he says. Moscow, Paris, and Beijing "understand that the distinction between disarmament and government overthrow blurs as soon as any military force is required." Others, both within and outside the United States, point out that this is a crucial distinction to maintain, for, if Saddam Hussein sees U.S. military action against him as inevitable, he then "has no incentive" to comply with weapons inspectors, "and every incentive to use whatever weapons he has amassed."
Few at the UN seem eager "to plunge into a confrontation" and are instead willing to allow renewed inspections to take as long as necessary. But he notes that Washington, for its part, has already determined that "the prime moment" for an invasion is January or February.
Peter Nonnenmacher in the "Frankfurter Rundschau" examines the latest diplomatic developments in the effort to prevent Iraq from amassing weapons of mass destruction.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair is the most ardent supporter of the United States' Iraq policy but is meeting with opposition at home, as tens of thousands of Britons flocked to a vast peace rally in London on 28 September to oppose a possible military strike on Iraq. Protesters carried antiwar banners and chanted slogans against both U.S. President Bush and Blair.
Nonnenmacher says London may have "the most hawkish government chief, but it also hosted the most impressive antiwar demonstration" of the many that took place around the world in the past few days. Blair cannot afford to ignore this, says Nonnenmacher. "This demonstration marked the beginning of a popular movement against the Anglo-American war promotion."
He goes on to say the demonstration openly challenges the government to declare its intentions regarding Iraq publicly. The vociferous antiwar stance of a vast section of the population lent significant weight to the debate on the issue, he says. Four-fifths of Britons oppose an attack against Iraq unless it is sanctioned by a UN resolution.
In the United States, he says, a "silent minority" opposes war on Iraq, whereas in Britain the majority is making its antiwar sentiments known.
THE WASHINGTON POST:
In a contribution to "The Washington Post," Eugene Rumer discusses the interests of Russian oil companies with regard to U.S. policy on Iraq. Representatives from the U.S. and Russian oil industries are meeting in Houston this week for the first U.S.-Russia Commercial Energy Summit. Rumer says the meeting is an opportunity for the United States and Russia to forge "a genuine global energy partnership," which could ultimately bring stability to the global oil market.
Russian oil companies "want better access to international capital markets and cutting-edge technology," as both are needed to increase the oil production that is now "vital to Russia's growth and financial stability." But many in the industry also seek expanded overseas ties as the "best guarantee against the vagaries of the Russian domestic political scene."
Rumer writes, "As tensions in the Persian Gulf escalated in recent months, Russian oil barons telegraphed -- repeatedly and with unprecedented clarity -- the price of their acquiescence to regime change in Baghdad." They have made clear that they seek "reasonable assurances" of a stake in post-Saddam Hussein Iraqi oil, perhaps in partnership with U.S. oil companies. Rumer remarks that Russia's "5 million barrels of oil a day in exports, combined with Iraq's projected capacity of 4 million barrels, could match Saudi Arabia's daily output of 8 million barrels and become an unprecedented force for stability in the global oil market."
THE WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE:
An analysis in "The Wall Street Journal Europe" says the transcript of a recently released taped exchange between Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma and Valeriy Malev, former head of Ukraine's arms-export agency, shows that Kuchma "approved the sale of a sophisticated radar to Iraq." The paper notes that the alleged sale would have been "a breach of the international arms embargo imposed on Iraq by the UN."
Kyiv "gets hundreds of millions of dollars each year from the U.S.," the paper notes. But recent developments have not rewarded U.S. efforts in Ukraine. Kuchma himself has been "a disappointment," it says. The president "called for radical economic reforms and close ties with the West on taking office in 1994, [but] delivered corruption and cracked down on political opponents." "No country that deals weapons with Iraq can be a Western ally," the paper adds.
Yet Western aid to Ukraine has not been in vain. This scandal "is a good reminder that the western flank of the old Russian empire still needs American attention." The paper says Kuchma "must be fully transparent about what happened with Iraq." The United States deserves to know if its aid to Ukraine ultimately "subsidized a government that in turn armed America's enemies. If the embargo-busting sale did go through, Mr. Kuchma should be held to account by the international community as well as by his own electorate."
FRANKFURTER ALLGEMEINE ZEITUNG:
The "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" comments on the antiwar demonstrations this past weekend in London, Rome, and elsewhere, with a view to German politics. It says these open protests not only seek to prove the rashness of those who rush to conflict with Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, but they are also evidence of the fundamental principles of democracy.
It is a unique feature of German politics that its radical pacifism has not taken to the streets, the paper says. Germany does not need such an extraparliamentary antiwar backdrop because the spirit of the peace movement now permeates German policy. But Berlin cannot rely on Hussein's bowing to UN resolutions, it says. The German chancellor may currently be popular in Baghdad, but should Iraq back down, it will not be the result of German policy but due to Iraq becoming fully aware of America's and Britain's combined military capability.
In fact, the paper concludes, Germany's diplomatic maneuvers, particularly with regard to the United States, have not been entirely honest.
An analysis in France's daily "Le Monde" discusses the outcome of the first round of elections in Serbia yesterday, which pitted incumbent President Vojislav Kostunica against federal Deputy Prime Minister Miroljub Labus. Neither contender received enough votes to win in the initial round.
While the official results of the electoral commission are expected today, the Belgrade-based Center for Free Elections and Democracy estimates that Kostunica will receive 31.2 percent of the votes to Labus's 27.7 percent. Labus pointed out that the percentage difference between him and Kostunica represents fewer than 100,000 votes. "Le Monde" says the extremist nationalist party of Vojislav Seselj scored higher than expected, with 22.5 percent. Overall participation in the voting was estimated at only 55.7 percent. In southern Serbia, it says, Albanians for the most part refrained from taking part in the polling.
Whatever will be the outcome of the second round of voting, "Le Monde" says it will indicate a veritable fracture within the coalition of power in Belgrade. Kostunica characterizes himself as a moderate nationalist and advocates a policy of carefully led reforms, with strict attention paid to their legality and with a view to avoid plunging the country into a period of social instability. Labus, on the contrary, recommends accelerating the reforms begun two years ago in order to allow the country to seek integration into the EU around 2010.
THE NEW YORK TIMES:
A commentary in "The New York Times" on 28 September edition says "there are times when President George W. Bush and his national security team seem all too eager to plunge into battle" with Iraq. However, his administration, "for the moment, seems committed to working with reluctant members of the Security Council, including Russia and France, to fashion a resolution that affords time for further peaceful efforts to get Iraq to give up its unconventional weapons."
Even if the U.S. administration has its doubts that Iraq will voluntarily disarm or allow thorough inspections, the paper says Bush "must give that option a real chance to play out." The editorial says this is "essential" to any strategy Bush may wish to pursue, including military options.
"If a confrontation becomes unavoidable," it says, Bush "will be in a much stronger position if he has the support of the Security Council," as well as that of his domestic political critics in Congress.
(RFE/RL's Dora Slaba contributed to this report.)