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Western Press Review: The Limits of Iraqi Inspections, Chalabi's Troubles, And Poland's EU Doubts

  • Khatya Chhor

Prague, 2 December 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Analysis and commentary in the major Western dailies today discuss resisting U.S. "bullying" on Iraq, Iraqi National Congress head Ahmad Chalabi's troubles in Jordan, the limitations of Iraqi compliance on weapons inspections, Poland's ebbing EU enthusiasm, and tackling Spain's "Prestige" oil spill, among other issues.


The leading editorial in Britain's "The Guardian" today says the U.S.-Iraq crisis is putting a strain on long-standing alliances. Most citizens of NATO member Turkey, for example, "do not support an attack on Iraq, fearing a repeat of the costly economic disruption and refugee influx that attended the last Gulf War." They also worry that an Iraq war may lead Kurds to declare an independent state in northern Iraq, on the Turkish border.

Ties with Saudi Arabia have also soured. Last week, the U.S. administration made public its concerns about alleged financial links between wealthy Saudis and Al-Qaeda. The allegations, which involved members of the Saudi royal family, "brought a furious response," the paper says. "Washington was accused, not unreasonably, of trying to browbeat Saudi Arabia into allowing U.S. bases there to be used to attack Iraq."

But the editorial says Riyadh "may be better placed than others to resist U.S. pressure. One reason is oil; 17 percent of U.S. daily needs comes from Saudi Arabia, which has 25 percent of all global reserves." Saudi investment in the U.S. may be another leveraging factor. Saudi Arabia "has reasonable demands of its own" to make of the U.S. -- above all, "a more urgent, more equitable U.S. effort to resolve the Palestinian conflict." "The Guardian" says Saudi Arabia "could, and should, do more to help fight Al-Qaeda. But that does not mean it should succumb to bullying over Iraq."


In "The Washington Times," editor-at-large Arnaud de Borchgrave, currently also with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, discusses Iraqi National Congress (INC) chief Ahmad Chalabi, who some view as a potential post-Saddam Hussein Iraqi leader. De Borchgrave says Chalabi's detractors argue he has only known "comfortable exile, first in Jordan, then in Britain," and is ill-suited to the rigorous test that would await him leading a postwar Iraq. De Borchgrave also points put that on 9 April 1992, Chalabi was sentenced "to 22 years hard labor by a Jordanian state security court on 31 charges of embezzlement, theft, misuse of depositor funds, and speculation with the Jordanian dinar" for his actions as founder and head of Petra Bank, Jordan's third-largest. At the time of the sentencing, Chalabi "had already skipped across the border to Syria."

Chalabi denies the charges "and claims jealous royal courtiers framed him." But de Borchgrave says Petra Bank undeniably failed, "and some $300 million in depositors' accounts had suddenly vanished." He says Jordan's ruling establishment "does not look forward to a Chalabi-run Iraq, propped up by the U.S. military." However, considering Jordan's "total dependence on Iraqi oil, it's a safe bet that a President Ahmad Chalabi would receive a royal pardon in Jordan."


Doyle McManus of the "Los Angeles Times" says the new round of UN weapons inspections in Iraq "did not report any immediate findings, but they were not expected to. Their initial forays were intended largely as trial runs, in part to test whether the Iraqis would put obstacles in their path." He says U.S. officials "expect Iraq to cooperate even as it attempts to conceal ongoing weapons programs."

Iraq insists it has no weapons to hide, an assertion that McManus says "flies in the face of evidence the U.S., Britain, France, and other governments say their intelligence agencies have amassed that Iraq is pursuing nuclear-, chemical-, and biological-weapons programs."

As inspections continue, McManus says Iraqi President Saddam Hussein may admit to some armaments, and perhaps "try to guess what the CIA and other Western intelligence agencies know about his weapons programs and declare a little more. Or he may declare everything -- and drown the UN in paper by including every chemical and biological laboratory in the country, from weapons programs to veterinary stations and high schools."

But McManus says the most likely scenario, according to government officials, is that Baghdad will declare it has" already revealed all its weapons of mass destruction -- issuing, in effect, a challenge to the UN to find whatever it can."


Two German papers comment on environmental damage as more crude oil from a sunken tanker washed up on the Spanish coastline yesterday, two weeks after the initial oil slick came ashore. The second spill from the "Prestige" tanker is estimated to contain 9,000 tons of oil, almost twice as much as the first spill which polluted 500 kilometers of shoreline.

Claudia Ehrenstein in "Die Welt" says initially, people reacted with anger with 200,000 Spaniards demonstrated their rage at the incompetence of authorities and the failure to prevent such an environmental catastrophe by not taking action in time. Ehrenstein says the government shirked its responsibility by dragging the "Prestige" into high seas. In the end, the people see themselves as helpless victims and their anger has turned to resignation.


On the same subject, Axel Veiel in the "Frankfurter Rundschau" says that this second time around, authorities are making every effort "to mitigate the damage caused by the oil slick." At least half a dozen ships are trying to suck up the oil and prevent it from spreading.

The author says dragging the "Prestige" to high seas in the hopes that it, and the heavy oil, would sink proved to be a matter of delaying the disaster, not preventing it.

Veiel says that although the EU has adopted a decision to assure greater safety for oil transport by insisting on double-hulled tankers as of 2013, this will make little difference in the short-term.


In the "Chicago Tribune," Clarence Page says U.S. President George W. Bush "hit a sour note" when he named former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger to head a "supposedly independent investigation into the federal response to the 11 September terrorist attacks." Page says, "If anything, Bush should be naming a commission to investigate Kissinger instead."

Kissinger is "remembered fondly" by some as the man "[who] helped President Richard Nixon open the door to China and pull America out of the Vietnam War." But he "also is remembered by much of the world -- far less fondly -- as a war criminal." Page says, "As more declassified documents from the Kissinger years come into daylight, so do a string of questionable connections to dictators and potentates around the globe."

Moreover, says Page, "One wonders about how diligently Kissinger, a long-time friend of the Saudi royal family, just like the Bushes," will examine Saudi connections to the attacks "and other matters that step on politically, diplomatically, or economically sensitive toes." Page remarks that President Bush "did not want the investigation in the first place. Naming a political lightning rod like Kissinger serves to discredit its investigation before it begins."


In "The Boston Globe," former British special representative to Afghanistan David Reddaway says, in light of the upcoming 5 December anniversary of the signing of the Bonn Agreement, it is a good time to ask "whether the Bonn roadmap is steering Afghanistan in the right direction."

Reddaway says the Bonn Agreement is helping Afghanistan to make progress. But he reminds the international community to focus on what he calls "the three Rs" that remain relevant in the country: realism, respect, and resilience.

Keeping a sense of realism, he says, "reminds us that Afghanistan cannot be magically transformed into a modern democracy." Instead, he suggests focusing on what he calls the "essential and the achievable."

The second "R," respect, means keeping in mind that "Afghanistan belongs to the Afghans. Building Afghan capacity must underpin everything we do. Hence the need to nurture viable Afghan institutions, drawing on Afghanistan's cultural and religious heritage."

Finally, resilience is required of the international community with respect to Afghanistan, "in terms of commitment and stamina, [which] will be needed to overcome the many daunting challenges we will continue to face."

Reddaway says, "Whatever difficulties and distractions surface now, we must not snatch defeat from victory by abandoning the Afghans again."


In "The New York Times," David Unger writes that Americans "have long lived, though not always comfortably, with large-scale immigration." In Europe, immigration "dates only to the past few decades, the same period in which European societies have had to adjust to the loss of colonial empires and the gradual surrender of sovereignty to the European Union. In many countries, national identity has become an increasingly raw subject."

While Unger says some immigrant populations in Europe have integrated successfully with their host culture, "others have perpetuated their isolation by importing brides and grooms from their rural villages back home." Generations of immigrants often remain "trapped in poor housing, poor schools, and chronic unemployment."

Unger remarks, now that immigrants comprise close to 10 percent of the population in several European countries, it is "becoming necessary to redefine the meaning of being Swedish, Dutch, or German. As Americans have learned, if done right this will not dilute but enrich the national identity."

For years, he says, European intellectuals "avoided discussing the problems of immigrant communities, for fear of stirring public anxieties." Unger says "well-meaning liberals" are still reluctant to tackle the issue. Yet their "silence has helped open the door" to alarmists on the political right, "from whom the issue must now be reclaimed."


In the German financial paper "Handelsblatt," Doris Heimann looks at the growing disapproval among Polish farmers of the prospect of joining the EU.

For the past year, since the social democrats won elections in Poland, the government has backed down on the issue of a transitional period for free labor movement among EU countries, as well as on land sales to foreigners. Now the government in Warsaw is also prepared to accept compromises regarding agricultural subsidies. But, says Heimann, many Polish farmers "only see that they are not immediately due for the same kind of assistance as their competitors in the West. Miners and steel workers do not blame overdue structural reforms for a mass loss of jobs, but angrily point at Brussels."

The government has failed to promote the EU and inform people of its mission, says Heimann. And the badly conducted information campaign may backfire with a vengeance in the referendum to take place in May.

Nevertheless, opinion polls suggest the majority of Poles do support EU entry. But a lack of participation in a referendum due to growing frustration could lead to EU entry rejection. Heimann concludes that the Copenhagen summit must offer Poland and the other EU candidate countries sufficient enticements for the respective governments to be able to sell EU membership at home.


In France's daily "Le Monde," columnist Patrick Jarreau says the attacks of 11 September obliged the U.S. administration to become increasingly engaged in the world, when it had sought to do just the opposite. The rhetoric of U.S. President George W. Bush initially focused on "the return of strict national interest, an end to distant, useless, and dangerous campaigns, a reduction of American military presence in the world, and a new priority given to American interests, to the detriment of [international] treaties."

But the 11 September attacks led to the United States declaring war in Afghanistan and assuming the responsibility for postwar nation building. It was thus also necessary to form an international coalition, which Jarreau points out always comes with a price.

He says before 11 September, the U.S. denounced the Kyoto Protocol and rushed headlong into the construction of an antimissile defense system without regard for the global consequences. Since the September attacks, the U.S. has pursued a lone war in Afghanistan, threatened the three nations of the "axis of evil," demanded that the Palestinian Authority reform before discussing peace negotiations, and is flirting with a coupe d'etat in Iraq.

The recent decision to expand NATO (21-22 November) to include seven new members has extended Washington's influence, restoring its interdependence with Europe and Asia. For better or worse, says Jarreau, America today is as present as ever in the world.

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