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Western Press Review: Rising Tensions Ahead Of A Possible War, Iraqi Oil For Iraqis, Iran's Nuclear Program

  • Khatya Chhor

Prague, 11 February 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Much of the commentary in the Western press today remains focused on the shifting alliances and growing tensions that are emerging as a U.S.-led war with Iraq appears increasingly likely. The French-German proposal for strengthening inspections and deploying UN "blue helmet" peacekeepers in Iraq in an attempt to avert military action has sparked much debate, as have divisions within NATO over Turkey's defense in the event of war. Other discussion centers on Iran's nuclear-energy program and ensuring Iraq's oil wealth remains in the hands of the Iraqi people.


An editorial in "The Wall Street Journal Europe" today discusses the refusal of NATO members France, Germany, and Belgium to back a proposal ensuring protection for fellow member Turkey in the event of a Western-led war against neighboring Iraq. The paper says allowing the NATO alliance to appear "divided and paralyzed" ahead of possible military action sends the wrong message.

Turkey is the only NATO member to share a border with Iraq. Although the Turkish public remains strongly antiwar and despite the economic and political difficulties Ankara faced following the 1991 Gulf War, the government has agreed to allow its military bases to be used in the event of war. But the paper remarks there is no telling what wartime troubles could spread to Turkish territory.

Given such concerns, Ankara has evoked Article 4 of the NATO Treaty, which calls on the 19 alliance members to convene whenever one of them believes its "territorial integrity, political independence or security [is] threatened." The paper says: "NATO's core mission is to ensure that all members come to the defense of any one member under attack. [But] just as its founding mission is being evoked, France, along with Belgium and Germany, have opted out of the deal." The paper says Turkey's defense needs "will be met by its real friends, with or without an explicit NATO action." But the French-German-Belgian refusal to honor Turkey's request must cause NATO members to "wonder what, if anything, their compact really means."


The lead editorial in the British daily "The Guardian" today says it is clear that U.S. President George W. Bush and Britain's Prime Minister Tony Blair "have largely failed to persuade Europe, the Arab world and many Americans" that preemptive force is needed to counter the threat posed by Iraqi weapons programs. But faced with this popular opposition, Blair "condescendingly implies" that the public does not understand what is at stake. "They do," the paper says.

Nor is it accurate to suggest that other world leaders fail to appreciate the threat of terrorism. Many leaders are simply opposed to a cure that might prove more dangerous than the disease, the paper says, and this reflects public opinion. The "we know best" approach of Bush and Blair "makes a unified, workable policy more difficult to obtain."

The paper says Washington is wrong to dismiss French-German proposals for enhanced inspections. If the U.S. believes inspections will not work, "then why did the U.S. back them last autumn? Perhaps it really is all a U.S. charade, as Iraq suspects," says the paper. But it is "dishonest to urge a second UN vote authorizing force yet simultaneously vow to attack if one is not agreed."

A combination of "intensified inspections, containment and diplomatic pressure" is the "reasonable alternative to war," says the paper. It is also "a unifying policy that most UN, NATO and EU states and most people can rally behind."


Berthold Kohler writes in the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" of the latest diplomatic developments concerning a possible war with Iraq at a NATO meeting yesterday. He says the fact that France, Belgium, and Germany blocked initial efforts to send Turkey AWACS planes, Patriot missiles, and antichemical- and antibiological-warfare teams has left destruction in its wake.

Kohler says NATO, in which much depends on reliability and solidarity, is being subject to a fundamental quarrel. Kohler says, "Berlin is the ringleader of this rebellion." Whereas Germany had previously clearly differentiated between its quarrel with the United States in their bilateral relationship and its responsibilities deriving from NATO membership, now, with the Turkey issue, Berlin is undermining one of NATO's "holy" principles -- that of reciprocal support in the event of an attack on any member.

In opposing NATO plans, Kohler continues, Berlin is flaunting its conflict with Washington at a time when America is reconsidering the usefulness and costs of the alliance.

Although NATO has withstood several crises, says Kohler, this dispute over Iraq is the main rupture in the alliance since the fall of the Soviet Union. However, he says, it is clear that in dealing with transnational terror and the dissemination of weapons of mass destruction that constitute a threat to both sides of the Atlantic, NATO remains the binding force.


"The New York Times" says the debate over a possible war in Iraq "has turned into far too personal a dispute over American leadership." France, it says, is "leading the rebellion [and] showing poor judgment. But the fault lies as well with the Bush administration's destructive 'with us or against us' approach."

The paper goes on to say that there is "plenty of room for healthy debate in NATO, the United Nations Security Council and other international bodies about how and at what pace to proceed in disarming Iraq." But the issue really is one of the UN Security Council, and should not be debated "as part of the NATO discussion on defending Turkey, where it erupted yesterday."

Turkey, which borders Iraq, fears retaliation from Baghdad in the event of a Western-led war.

Washington was wrong to force the issue, says the paper. "The result was that France, Germany, and Belgium blocked an initial American-backed proposal" for Turkey's defense. "They said it was premature and overly broad and would appear to commit NATO to supporting a war the Security Council had not yet approved."

But as a result, NATO "appears more publicly divided" than it has in decades. "That isn't a smart way for the countries on either side of the Iraq debate to pressure Baghdad to take the overdue steps on disarmament that could still avoid war."


In "The Washington Post," former Assistant Secretary of the Interior J. Robinson West, now of consulting firm PFC Energy, says the long-term success or failure of a postwar Iraq will depend on how it uses its oil resources.

"Nearly every country with an economy dominated by oil is corrupt and dictatorial, whether in Latin America, Africa, the Caspian, Southeast Asia or the Middle East," says West. Oil resources allow vast wealth "controlled by the government [to be] created without labor or risk. So rulers have no accountability to the people, because they do not need the consent of the governed." And this is a "formula for political and economic corruption and mismanagement."

A more equitable system must be implemented, says West, and the first step is transparency. Iraq must make its oil accounts available to an elected parliament and to the Iraqi people, to prevent oil revenue from being funneled into secret bank accounts.

Second, international organizations such as the World Bank and the UN must ensure that oil profits are "properly spent on social infrastructure" such as health and education.

Next, "a substantial share" of the country's oil revenue must be given "directly to its population on an annual basis." Iraqi individuals "would be empowered both economically and politically."

West says, "Let Iraq control its oil, but ensure that its oil revenue be used for the right reason: the welfare of the people."


The "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" looks at U.S. apprehensions over Iran's declaration that it has started to mine uranium.

Reformist Iranian President Mohammed Khatami vowed yesterday that the facility to process uranium ore into fuel is solely for generating electricity and that there are no intentions to develop an atomic bomb. But coming from a country defined by the U.S. as one-third of the "axis of evil," Tehran's statement immediately aroused suspicion. The reactor, a project begun by the Germans, is due to be completed next year by the Russians.

The paper says the Americans have sounded the alarm, accusing Iran of dabbling in atomic weapons. The commentary says it is not clear why Khatami has chosen this moment to declare that Iran is undertaking the mining of uranium, from the extraction of the raw material to the administration of the reactors.

Granted, the realization of a power station is still far off. Nevertheless, the commentary says, such moves serve to immediately heighten the already high tensions in the Persian Gulf.


In "The Washington Post," Morton Halperin of the Open Society Institute and the Council on Foreign Relations says the facts suggest that war in Iraq is not necessary. "[The] current policy is working," he says. Iraqi President Saddam Hussein "has been contained. That is, Hussein has not used weapons of mass destruction against anyone who could retaliate with either weapons of mass destruction or overwhelming conventional military power. His use of weapons of mass destruction in the past came when we were supporting him -- before 1991 -- and supplying him with the materials to construct the weapons."

Since then, Halperin says the Iraqi leader "has neither threatened to use weapons of mass destruction nor threatened conventional military attacks on his neighbors. So the evidence proves that he has been contained and he can continue to be contained." Halperin cites a Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) report that says Saddam Hussein "shows no signs of using" weapons of mass destruction, because he knows the U.S. "would retaliate with deadly force." However, also according to the CIA report, a U.S.-led attack on Iraq might push him to use whatever weapons he has.

Yet the U.S. administration "has not answered that argument other than to speculate" that Baghdad may be tempted to use these weapons" someday if the U.S. does not attack. Halperin suggests instead more stringent embargo and inspections regimes, supporting Iraq's political opposition and indicting Hussein at a UN war crimes tribunal.


The leading editorial today in France's "Le Monde" says while U.S. representatives defended their new doctrine of preemptive war over the weekend at the international conference on security in Munich, leaders from Paris and Berlin defended the "good old method" of containment.

The United States continues to insist that Baghdad has not respected UN Resolution 1441 and must face the "serious consequences" referred to in the resolution as soon as possible. But France and Germany believe the inspections have not been allowed to run their course yet, that their full effects are not yet evident. They say if the aim is to disarm Saddam Hussein and ensure he has no weapons of mass destruction, the number of inspectors must be tripled and the searches intensified.

For the moment, "Le Monde" says, Russia and China -- two of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council -- support the French-German plan. After a stop in Berlin, Russian President Vladimir Putin arrived in Paris yesterday. He will be warmly welcomed in the French capital, says the paper, and the issue of Russian war crimes in Chechnya will not be mentioned. Realpolitik calls, the paper says, and nothing will be said to push Putin over to the side of the Americans.

Washington has dismissed the French-German plan as a "delaying tactic," aimed at pushing back the timetable for a conflict. But the paper says such a plan is better than one that instead rushes toward war.

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