Prague, 5 February 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Much attention in the Western media today is devoted to U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell's address at the UN today, in which he is widely expected to present proof of Iraq's weapons programs and its noncompliance with UN resolutions in order to justify military action. Discussion also centers around securing stability for a postwar Iraq, the nuclear threat posed by North Korea, and Franco-British relations in light of yesterday's summit between British Prime Minister Tony Blair and France's President Jacques Chirac.
LOS ANGELES TIMES:
In the "Los Angeles Times," Robert Scheer says as U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell prepares to make the case for military action against Iraq at the UN Security Council today: "We know in advance that [Powell's] performance will be flawless. His military career has prepared him well to execute the orders" of the U.S. president, no matter what personal doubts Powell may have "as to their morality, efficacy or logic."
Scheer goes on to question whether anybody outside the U.S. administration and its hawkish think-tank advisers really believes that Iraq -- "a poor country half a world away that is already divvied up into 'no-fly' zones, crawling with UN inspectors and still shattered economically and militarily from two previous wars" -- is really an imminent threat to the United States. Scheer says, "Regardless of Saddam Hussein's record of cruelty and regional power ambitions, as a military man Powell should be employing a straightforward equation: Does the target pose a direct threat to U.S. security?"
The allegation that Iraq possesses weapons of mass destruction that threaten the United States is the first "Big Lie" about Iraq in 2003, says Scheer. The second has been the "exaggeration and innuendo" used in an attempt to link Baghdad to Al-Qaeda. And what Scheer calls the "most outrageous" lie of the U.S. administration is that allowing UN inspectors to complete their work in Iraq would unduly place the United States at risk.
THE WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE:
In "The Wall Street Journal Europe," former U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen says Iraq's 12,000-page report on its weapons programs, submitted to chief inspector Hans Blix in accordance with UN Resolution 1441, was "a reprint of earlier documents lacking any new evidence to account for the missing tons of Iraqi chemical and biological agents." Moreover, the report "deliberately altered earlier documents to hide information that Iraq had previously admitted." Given this and other evidence, Cohen says it is surprising that so many are still resisting the enforcement of the "serious consequences" portion of Resolution 1441.
But part of the responsibility for this lies with the U.S. administration, he says, which has failed thus far to persuade the international community of the necessity to forcibly disarm Iraq. U.S. President George W. Bush has tried to convince the world by linking Iraq's Saddam Hussein with terrorism. But Cohen says while the Iraqi leader may be known for brutal tactics at home and for having assassinated Iraqi dissidents abroad, Iraq "does not have a reputation for sponsoring or conducting acts of terrorism."
If the UN "has a less destructive, more humane and successful method of securing [Iraq's] disarmament than through the use of military force, it must act without further delay," Cohen says. But if it chooses to ignore noncompliance with its resolutions, the UN will only tempt more defiance of its rules.
A "Financial Times" editorial says if U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell presents incontrovertible evidence on Iraq's nuclear-weapons programs to the UN Security Council today, "it would look like the information the Bush administration already has on North Korea but almost certainly does not have on Iraq."
The paper says while it has been looking to build the case for a preventive war against Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, Washington "has been sitting on satellite images showing queues of North Korean trucks at the Yongbyon nuclear facility, presumably moving [its] stockpile of nuclear fuel rods to be reprocessed into weapons-grade plutonium."
Moreover, in recent weeks, North Korea's Kim Jong-il has "expelled UN nuclear monitors, withdrawn from the nuclear nonproliferation treaty, and admitted to the uranium-enrichment program." In contrast, Iraq allowed the same UN nuclear-monitoring agency to destroy its nuclear program between 1991 and 1998, and the agency has found no evidence that it has been rebuilt.
The "Financial Times" says the U.S. administration's focus on Iraq while North Korea advertises its nuclear program with impunity could convince other "ambitious tyrants that they must fast acquire nuclear or other doomsday weapons" if they want to remain free from U.S. interference.
A "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" commentary on the nuclear threat posed by North Korea discusses the U.S. administration's choice of tactics in dealing with this "rogue" nuclear state.
The commentary says U.S. diplomacy is vacillating between using a "carrot" and a "stick" in its efforts to force Kim Jong-il to renounce his nuclear program. But since North Korea has rejected offers to negotiate, Washington has now given preference to the stick and ordered troop maneuvers in North Asia, which the paper says should send two messages to North Korea. First, that Pyongyang should not think possible U.S. engagement in the Persian Gulf will rule out Washington also dealing firmly with North Korea's threats to continue its weapons programs. Second, that the U.S. is keeping open the military option should diplomacy in North Korea fail.
Pyongyang's reaction was predictable, says the commentary. It accuses America of wanting to "choke the country militarily." But the paper says these protestations should not be taken seriously, for North Korea is, in fact, interested in finding a diplomatic solution.
Instead of relying on such bellicose rhetoric, the commentary advises North Korea to accept offers to mediate coming from neighboring South Korea, as well as from Pyongyang's former allies in the Kremlin and Beijing.
THE NEW YORK TIMES:
An editorial in "The New York Times" says North Korea's "rapidly advancing nuclear-weapons program is the most urgent threat facing America today." Yet it remarks that the U.S. administration, in focusing on Iraq first, "has been reluctant to give diplomacy with North Korea the priority it warrants."
Pyongyang has said it is willing to discuss ending its nuclear program "as part of a broader discussion encompassing guarantees of its security" and increasing "desperately needed economic help," including shipments of fuel. Washington is also willing to discuss these issues, but is demanding that North Korea first make clear how it will put an end to its nuclear ambitions. The paper says much-needed talks between Washington and Pyongyang "will probably never take place unless the [U.S.] administration drops its preconditions."
The paper warns, "By the time the two sides agree on the ground rules [for negotiations], North Korea could already have multiplied by three or fourfold the two nuclear weapons it is now suspected of having." If the United States wants to negotiate from a position of "maximum strength," it should open negotiations now.
THE WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE:
In a contribution to "The Wall Street Journal's" European edition, Julian Lindley-French of the Geneva Center on Security Policy says yesterday's Franco-British summit at Le Tourquet brought the usual summit pledges and champagne, while the now expected but "increasingly unconvincing joint commitment to European defense was re-stated." Jacques Chirac emphasized that in spite of recent Franco-British tensions, relations remain close and the two nations share many common interests.
But Lindley-French says a persistent divisive topic remains Chirac's unwillingness to compromise on "the timetable for the use of force against Iraq, which undermines the overall Western strategy for dealing with Saddam Hussein." Paris's Iraq stance is unfortunate, "because the future security of the European citizen will rest on comprehensive, effective and credible European defense and that means a close Franco-British relationship."
Both France and Germany have opposed a possible U.S.-led military action in Iraq. But Lindley-French says both nations must "start equipping themselves with the military capability, coherent security policies and political resolve" that a real European security and defense policy calls for. Europe must "truly close the gap between Europe's vital interests and the inability of Europeans to do anything much to defend them."
NEUE ZUERCHER ZEITUNG:
A commentary in the Swiss "Neue Zuercher Zeitung" discusses the Yugoslav federal parliament's approval yesterday of a new constitution dissolving the Yugoslav Federation and replacing it with a new loose union to be called Serbia and Montenegro. The commentary says the Yugoslav Federation "was buried silently and without tears." Politicians and intellectuals in Serbia, Croatia, and Slovenia had once pinned high hopes on a common Yugoslavia in which equality would reign. Instead, there has been a systematic fracturing of the unified state, says the paper.
A new, temporary union has been created for Serbia and Montenegro. An ultimate decision on independence for these last two countries to go their separate ways will be decided in three years' time. The West is loath to see the further disintegration of the Yugoslav state, fearing that the laborious establishment of a stable Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, and other regional entities is now in jeopardy. However, there is still hope, says the Swiss daily. The differences between Serbia and Montenegro may diminish as the process of integration with the EU become more likely.
The paper says Serbia and Montenegro could choose to use the end of Yugoslavia as an opportunity to implement much-needed reforms, for neither can afford to lose more time in this process.
INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE:
In a contribution to the "International Herald Tribune," Patricia Gossman, who heads up an independent project on accountability in Afghanistan, says the United States should heed some lessons from the Afghan conflict in any postwar scenario in Iraq. Removing Iraqi President Saddam Hussein "will be the easy part," she says. Establishing a lasting, just peace afterwards will be the real challenge.
The first thing to remember, she says, is the importance of "[reconciling] political and military objectives. In Afghanistan, the United States has had two contradictory goals: to eliminate Al-Qaeda" and to ensure that Afghanistan will no longer be a base for terrorists. But as the search for Al-Qaeda suspects continues, she says, "the political process has been hindered by the exigencies of the military campaign." The U.S. pragmatically supports regional warlord leaders who are able to maintain security, although they do so often in brutal and repressive ways. Resentment of these regional leaders could tempt some to support the opposition, embodied in Al- Qaeda and Taliban.
Nation building after a possible conflict with Iraq will require "a long-term commitment." In Afghanistan, the international community's "tepid commitment" to the International Security Assistance Force, and opposition to expanding that force "have meant that the stability achieved is fragile.... Such an equation can't hold forever," she says.
(RFE/RL's Dora Slaba contributed to this report.)