Prague, 11 December 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Discussion in Western press today centers on the continuing search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq; Central and Eastern Europe's growing skepticism about EU membership; the rise in negative attitudes toward the United States, as outlined by a recent poll by the Pew Research Center; the probe into allegations that a U.S. company made illicit payments to the Kazakh government; and the struggle for reform in Iran, among other issues.
In the "Chicago Tribune," syndicated columnist Leonard Pitts discusses a recent survey conducted by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press on global attitudes toward the United States. He says the report's findings essentially indicate that although "there is still a reservoir of goodwill toward the United States, anti-Americanism -- among both [U.S.] friends and foes -- is up sharply since 2000. Forty-seven percent of respondents in Bangladesh hold an unfavorable opinion of the United States. Seventy-three percent of Canadians say our foreign policy decisions fail to take other nations into account, 70 percent of Germans fault us for increasing the gap between rich and poor." But he adds that "the world's appetite for American music, movies, and technology remains strong, even while the world complains about the spread of American culture, customs, and ideas."
He goes on to remark that the United States is not particularly concerned with what the world thinks, and suggests this indifference is part of the reason the global attitude toward the U.S. is worsening. The "average American ignores the rest of the world because she can, because it has little effect on her daily life," he says. But problems arise because U.S. actions affect others, sometimes in unexpected ways.
Pitts says some may call it U.S. arrogance, or greed, but the real problem is U.S. "obliviousness" -- America's "ability to not even know, much less care, what [others] call it."
THE BOSTON GLOBE:
An editorial in "The Boston Globe" says 54 years after the UN General Assembly adopted its Universal Declaration of Human Rights, on 10 December 1948, it is a good time to assess what has been accomplished in the field of protecting these rights, as well as what remains to be done. Amnesty International has contributed to this endeavor by taking up, "one by one, the desolating cases of prisoners of conscience." The people "had been jailed, often tortured, and almost always deprived of a fair and public hearing or the presumption of innocence -- human rights that the declaration said should be protected by the rule of law."
These "prisoners of conscience were held in Warsaw Pact states and in countries such as Ethiopia and North Korea. But comparable violations of human rights were also common in undemocratic regimes backed by the United States, among them Iran under the shah, Indonesia under Suharto, Guatemala, Chile, El Salvador, and Argentina." And much still remains to be done, the paper says. In many former Soviet states "such as Uzbekistan, Belarus, and Ukraine, nationalist repression seamlessly supplanted communist repression."
The paper says it is right that the fight against treatable diseases such as AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria is being tackled by human rights advocates, noting the declaration includes the right to medical treatment.
In the German "Die Welt," Andrea Seibel examines Poland's status in light of EU enlargement, which will be a focal point at the EU Copenhagen summit to open tomorrow.
This day, says the commentary, is likely to be a "red-letter day." Although it is not always evident and in spite of all the bureaucracy associated with Brussels, the EU reflects European "identity, even its soul." Seibel says, "In this respect, the homecoming of Poland into the European fold is a wonderful step."
At such an auspicious moment, the EU must demonstrate that it is more than just an administrative entity. Warsaw is dragging its feet on the last lap of its long journey back to Europe. The trouble is that, as much as Poland is culturally part of Europe, economically it lags behind.
Seibel says one has to be aware of Poland's "historical experience, which has made it proud, strong, and self-confident, as well as sensitive and vulnerable." These sentiments have been neglected in accession negotiations, and hence, Seibel says, "Poland has still not been won over."
THE NEW YORK TIMES:
An editorial in "The New York Times" discusses the ongoing UN weapons inspection in Iraq. If Iraq is eventually found to be in "material breach" of UN Resolution 1441, which ordered the new inspections, the resolution calls for "serious consequences" -- including likely military action.
But "The New York Times" says, "Before resorting to force, Washington and its allies must persuade other nations that Iraq's refusal to cooperate in its own disarmament leaves no acceptable alternative." But it may be difficult to furnish the type of irrefutable proof that those "determined to avoid war at all costs" may demand, particularly if Iraq is willfully misleading the weapons inspectors.
Instead, the editorial surmises that the case for military action "is likely to be made by highlighting any major discrepancies" between Iraq's report on its non-conventional weapons programs and American and other intelligence findings. "Given Baghdad's track record, which includes serial aggression against neighbors, wholesale duplicity toward the Security Council and missing stocks of nerve gas and biological weapons material," the paper says "this seems a reasonable approach."
The editorial concludes that if "careful scrutiny of Iraq's new report shows it to be still defaulting on its promises, it will have forfeited the chance for a peaceful solution."
LOS ANGELES TIMES:
In the "Los Angeles Times," Robert Scheer says the negative reaction by the U.S. administration to UN inspections in Iraq evokes the image "of the Ugly American making a grab for oil. Like a playground bully, we have made it clear that there is no answer to our verbal demands that would forestall a punishing physical assault. Yet, to anyone not rabid for war, the United Nations inspections would seem to be going well."
Scheer remarks that "a bolder investigation" would reveal that the United States developed and designed "the weapons of mass destruction -- chemical, biological, and nuclear -- that now haunt the world." U.S. companies "often supplied the materials that permitted other countries to experiment" with such weapons. He says perhaps U.S. President George W. Bush has forgotten that "in the matter of introducing weapons of mass destruction, it is we, and not some overseas 'evildoers,' who opened the door to [this] ultimately suicidal perversion."
Scheer suggests wryly that President Bush could be "among the vast majority of Americans who blissfully and conveniently forget that we are the only ones to ever actually use a nuclear weapon." This, he says, "may explain why even those who love freedom and democracy as much as we do are frightened not only of [Iraqi President] Saddam Hussein but increasingly of [the United States]."
THE IRISH TIMES:
An editorial in "The Irish Times" says the student protest movement in Iran "shows no sign of abating." Protests broke out last month when a history professor was sentenced to death by a conservative court for suggesting that laymen could interpret the Koran without the aid of Muslim clerics. Since then, reformist President Mohammad Khatami has put forward "two bills intended to prevent the conservative Guardians Council vetoing reformist candidates in the 2004 parliamentary elections and strengthening constitutional freedoms."
These two bills "are the real point of the present power struggle," the paper says. And this comes "as the international and regional context affecting Iran is changing rapidly. The crisis over Iraq puts Iran's position in a different light. In any United States-led war against Saddam Hussein, Iran would become a focus for the southern Iraqi Shia population and other opposition movements."
The paper says Iranian reformists hope for Iran "to replace Saudi Arabia as a possible strategic partner of the West in the oil-rich region, so long as Iran's independence and equality is respected. They are willing to open up relations with the U.S. and Europe on this basis."
The editorial acknowledges that an "emerging theme of U.S. diplomacy" is a recognition of the need "to encourage democratic trends in the Muslim world" Iran, it says, "would seem to be an obvious candidate for that role."
FRANKFURTER ALLGE,EINE ZEITUNG:
A brief commentary in the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" discusses the fate of the divided island of Cyprus. Cyprus is one of 10 prospective member countries that are expected to sit at the summit table in Copenhagen this week, when the European Union is scheduled to approve the largest expansion since its creation more than half a century ago.
The United Nations submitted a revised peace plan for Cyprus on 10 December before this week's crucial EU summit, and urged the Mediterranean island's divided communities not to miss their "rendezvous with history." But Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash, in spite of pressure from the new Turkish government, has rejected the UN plan, which is based on the Swiss Canton model and suggests reuniting the island, the northern part of which has been occupied by Turks since 1974.
The commentary advocates this plan, saying that for all its flaws, it nevertheless offers the basis for an acceptable compromise. The paper questions why Denktash rejects the plan while Greek Cypriot President Clerides Glafcos in the south still insists on the right of the Greeks to the entire island.
So, says the commentary, nothing will be resolved in Copenhagen. The Turkish military threat hangs over the issue. In the end, however, if the EU makes Cyprus a full member without a solution to this problem, then the north of the island will simply be annexed.
In "Eurasia View," Mark Berniker discusses the probe into allegations that a U.S. company has been making payments to Kazakh government officials, in violation of the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. Two U.S. senators (John McCain, R-Arizona, and Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont) recently sought additional information from the Bush administration in a case that has been before a federal grand jury in New York for two years, investigating whether U.S. corporations have lent, in their words, "improper assistance" to members of the Kazakh government. The senators expressed their concern over human rights violations by the Central Asian nation's government.
In 2002, a corruption scandal arose in Kazakhstan from the "[intense] political struggle between President Nursultan Nazarbaev and [the] Democratic Choice for Kazakhstan, the main opposition movement." Opposition leaders "accused government leaders of taking millions of dollars in bribes from Western oil concerns."
There is "no way to determine what, if any, connection the U.S. grand jury investigation has to the Kazakhgate scandal," says Berniker. But he notes that how the Bush administration "proceeds in prosecuting potential corrupt practices in Central Asia involves a complex calculus." The United States must "weigh its commitments to promoting democratization in the region" as well as the national security considerations of the U.S. antiterrorism campaign. He cites Yale University regional analyst Pauline Jones Luong as saying there is a tradeoff between promoting social reform in Central Asia and U.S. national security interests in the region. And "security seems to be in the forefront now," she says.
In London's "The Times," Berlin correspondent Roger Boyes says it is no wonder Central and East European nations have become disillusioned with the prospect of EU membership. Their store shelves are already stocked with "heavily subsidized European Union food -- a boon for consumers but commercial death for unsubsidized Polish farmers who cannot hope to compete" with EU products subsidized by the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).
Boyes says the EU "has spent the past two years bullying and bludgeoning Central Europe" towards EU membership. "Tens of thousands of pages of detailed entry requirements have been foisted on the East." Negotiations were "conducted like a hostile takeover bid." The EU "has done its level best to neutralize the East as future competitors and stifle the very energy that makes the region [economically] significant." Competition "is being quietly, systematically squashed."
It is true that "some money will flow eastwards," he says, although "significantly less than has been invested in east Germany since unification." But EU membership will mean that many now lucrative markets in the East will wither.
Boyes says the rhetoric from Western Europe reflects the old stereotype of "the threat from the East, the swarming car thieves, the illegal laborers stealing [Western] jobs." Central Europe is right to ask itself whether EU membership is worth it, he says.
(RFE/RL's Dora Slaba contributed to this report.)