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Western Press Review: A Last Day For Diplomacy -- Is War Now Imminent?

  • Khatya Chhor

Prague, 17 March 2003 (RFE/RL) -- The Western media is dominated by talk of war after U.S. President George W. Bush said today is the "moment of truth" for the UN to deal with disarming Iraq. Spanish, U.S., and British leaders met yesterday in the Azores to discuss the crisis.

The British and Spanish prime ministers have consistently expressed strong support for the U.S. position on Iraq, prompting some to surmise that the hastily called Azores summit was actually less about negotiations for peace than it was about plans for war.

Amid the discourse on war, we also take a look at St. Patrick's Day festivities, as Irish and other revelers throughout the Western world celebrate Ireland's national saint.


A "Daily Telegraph" editorial says the Azores summit yesterday "will go down in history as the time when the talking stopped." The leaders of Spain, Britain, and the United States made it clear that today would be the last day for diplomacy at the UN, that the world is now in the final stages of the debate on Iraq's disarmament.

"This was an ultimatum in all but name," the daily writes. Iraqi President Saddam Hussein was given one day to decide whether or not to accept exile. Unless France, Russia, and other opponents of war agree to a new resolution, the British daily says "there is every likelihood that the war will begin within hours."

The "Daily Telegraph" goes on to say that not only the future of Iraq is in question. The "viability of the Western alliance, the UN, and the entire world order is also at stake." Modern war "is often a continuation of law enforcement by other means," the paper says. And the legal basis for this war "is provided by all existing UN resolutions, from [Resolution] 687 of April 1991, which made a cease-fire conditional on Iraqi disarmament, to 1441 of last year, which threatened 'serious consequences'" unless Iraq disarmed.

The "Telegraph" says yesterday's summit "finally dispelled the illusion that the UN is or can be the sole arbiter of war and peace. It is not a question of unilateralism versus multilateralism, but of action versus words."


"The New York Times' says the United States, "nearly isolated" diplomatically, "is about to wage a war in the name of the world community that opposes it."

The paper says its editors remain "persuaded of the vital need to disarm Iraq." But this process "should go through the United Nations." That path, it says, is in the best interest of both the United States and the UN. With so few on the Security Council convinced that war is the best option, Washington "would be wise to drop the talk of imminent hostilities and come up with a resolution that leads to disarmament and consensus," says the paper. "The current path is reckless."

Although U.S. President George W. Bush has said today is one last chance for diplomacy, the paper says "[given] the administration's bellicose rhetoric over the weekend, it is hard not to suspect that the president is simply going through the motions."

The proposed British resolution last week calling on Iraq to fulfill specific steps -- such as allowing Iraqi scientists and their families out of the country for interviews -- "should be revived," says "The New York Times." It makes "no sense to assert [that] there is really nothing Saddam Hussein can do short of resigning that would stave off attack. This is the kind of talk that has made so many so skeptical of this administration."


A "Washington Post" editorial says U.S. President George W. Bush, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, and Spain's Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar have now given the UN "one day to agree to decisive action on Iraq." If there is no such decision today, the "Post" says Bush will probably announce a separate deadline to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. But it seems "likely" that neither ultimatum will prove effective, says the paper.

"The Washington Post" says its editors are of the opinion that military action "has been made necessary by Saddam Hussein's repeated defiance of UN disarmament orders." The paper believes Bush "is right to go forward despite opposition from France and other nations."

But the paper also says the U.S. administration is about to take on an "ambitious and risky mission" that will entail a "huge commitment" and will bring many likely costs -- in the lives of U.S. military personnel "but also in the potentially enormous burdens of seeing Iraq through a transition to [a] representative government."

The administration "has refused to discuss these costs, [and] its announced plans for the postwar period remain worryingly vague." The paper says Bush "has rightly assured Iraqis [that] U.S. forces will not remain in the country any longer than is necessary. But he needs to honestly tell Americans that this time may well extend for years and cost the country tens if not hundreds of billions of dollars."


Georg Watzlawek, writing in today's German financial paper the "Handelsblatt," looks at the possible outcome of the Iraq crisis, which he describes as the dawning of a "brave new world."

He says the first bombs "have not yet fallen but the list of collateral damage is already long." NATO has lost its strength, the European Union's common foreign policy has disappeared, and even EU expansion is suffering. A pervasive sense of insecurity is reflected in trade and economic growth. Trans-Atlantic partnerships and, hence, the entire security architecture of the UN Security Council is faced with disintegration.

Watzlawek places the blame for all this squarely on the United States. The administration of President George W. Bush has exhibited "arrogant contempt" for multilateral cooperation, he says. Since 11 September it has set itself on the course of an "imperial superpower, which, thanks to its military supremacy, is making up its own rules."

The result, says Watzlawek, is an "unprecedented diplomatic confrontation," in which the issue is not Hussein but "the attitude of the U.S. within a new world order." Watzlawek predicts that when the dust settles over the Iraq crisis, and if the U.S. wins a rapid victory, world diplomacy will have been altered. The result will be a conflict between unilateral and multilateral politics, he says, in which the U.S. will play a new and dangerous role.


A "New York Times" editorial says the image of "three men meeting on an Atlantic island seems an apt symbol for the failure of the Bush administration to draw the world around its Iraq policy." U.S. President George W. Bush, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, and Spain's Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar met on an island in the Portuguese Azores yesterday for a hastily called summit meeting on Iraq.

The paper says Baghdad did not actively comply with UN inspections, and France "created enormous problems through its unwillingness to back up inspections with tight deadlines and a credible threat of force." But the Bush administration's "erratic and often inept diplomacy has made matters immeasurably worse. By repeatedly switching its goals from disarmament to government change to broadly transforming the Middle East," and changing its arguments for war "from weapons to Al-Qaeda to human rights, the White House made many countries more worried about America's motives than Iraq's weapons."

Exerting strong pressure on allies like Turkey and Mexico "backfired, as did repeated sniping" at chief weapons inspector Hans Blix.

The Bush administration now seems to be "going through the motions of [diplomacy] without really believing in it," says the paper. Bush is "about to embark on an uncertain course of war and nation-building in one of the world's most dangerous and complex regions, with an alliance far too narrow for comfort."


Robin Wright, staff writer for the "Los Angeles Times," says the diplomatic wrangling over Iraq "supposedly ends today. The only issue remaining after the hastily organized summit in the Azores is whether the United States will be joined by the United Nations as it goes to war against Iraq. That now appears doubtful."

In what Wright calls "a final gesture -- or bluff," the British, Spanish, and U.S. leaders "offered the rest of the world one last, 24-hour chance to hop on their bandwagon, which is now rolling ever faster toward military intervention." If the three cannot rally the necessary nine-vote majority -- "and stave off vetoes -- for their Security Council resolution, which in effect authorizes war, they will drop their bid."

Another ultimatum will quickly follow, this one to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, "to leave Baghdad or face a punishing onslaught."

Without a "last-minute diplomatic miracle," war could begin this week. Wright cites some analysts as saying yesterday's one-hour summit "was largely an attempt to recapture a political and psychological initiative stolen over the last two weeks by naysayers. Others said it was just for show." And notably absent was any mention of the UN weapons inspections.

Wright says, "In a telling reflection [of] priorities," the talks focused on plans for "building a post-Hussein government [as] much as the task of disarming."


Writing in the "Wall Street Journal Europe," Douglas Brinkley of the Eisenhower Center for American Studies says the U.S. administration has made clear that a post-Saddam Hussein Iraq will see an Iraqi interim authority as quickly as possible, followed by a unified Iraq under democratic institutions.

"Nonetheless, some prominent members of the Iraqi opposition, most notably Ahmad Chalabi, head of the Iraqi National Congress (INC), have openly criticized the Bush administration's plan for a military occupation of Iraq." Chalabi fears the INC and other groups might be excluded from power.

Brinkley says while the U.S. administration respects the INC, "it is not prepared to immediately hand control of post-Saddam Iraq over to an unelected body of Iraqi nationals without first repairing the foundations of Iraqi civil society and rebuilding [Iraq's] democratic institutions."

Brinkley goes on to say one must look to U.S. General Douglas MacArthur's oversight of post-World War II Japan for clues on a post-Saddam Iraq. MacArthur "insisted on having 'an absolutely immaculate occupation,' [limiting] the profit foreign entrepreneurs could take from Japan. [Looting] of Japan, he said, was simply intolerable."

The Bush administration, "following the MacArthur lead, should make sure that no foreign or privileged internal powers rush in and seize the oil reserves of Iraq. Nothing will endear the Iraqi people to the U.S. occupation more than its safeguarding of these reserves -- the financial future of the nation."


In the "Frankfurter Rundschau," Karl Grobe looks at the last round of diplomacy on Iraq, which took place yesterday at a meeting in the Portuguese Azores between U.S. President George W. Bush and prime ministers Tony Blair of Britain and Jose Maria Aznar of Spain.

Grobe says these latest diplomatic efforts could in "no way alter the outcome of the Iraqi dilemma." An impasse confronts various leaders, including prime ministers Blair and Aznar, whose opinions on the Iraq crisis do not reflect the majorities in their nations.

Grobe says they had no choice, having sworn to support Bush in a war that has not been formally declared. All three are, above all, concerned with "saving their own political skins, and they can only be redeemed by a speedy victory" in Iraq.

The real issue now, says Grobe, is the current and future role of the UN as a world organization. The war the U.S. and its adherents want to wage is actually a political battle against the UN, if it fails to approve intervention in Iraq. On the other hand, he says, should the UN give its assent, "then it fails in its role as a world organization."


Writing in France's "Liberation," Gerard Dupuy says it is understood that U.S. President George W. Bush is anxious for the end of diplomatic rounds on the issue of Iraq. Rarely has a U.S. president received so many snubs from so many countries. He sought to build a large coalition for action on Iraq, but over the months Bush was instead left counting the desertions from and objections to his position.

The U.S. administration was not only challenged by active opposition from, notably, France, but was generally faced with passive resistance from a number of quarters. The United States did not succeed in convincing several hesitant members of the Security Council and, in the end, was left to meet with only two allies, both of which had declared unwavering support from the outset.

Their meeting, which took place at an American base lost in the limitless expanse of the Atlantic Ocean, appropriately symbolized the isolation of the U.S. president. Dupuy says it is too late to credibly return diplomacy to the right path. How, he asks, how could the UN -- on this last day for diplomacy -- succeed in creating a synthesis agreement between the U.S. ultimatum and the waiting periods wanted by Russia, Germany, and France?

Unless there is a miracle, he says the tremendous military force accumulated by the U.S. and Britain near Iraq will be set in motion, once its leaders realize the UN refuses to play the role they had prescribed for it.


An editorial in the "Irish Times" says on St. Patrick's Day today, people of both Irish extraction and many others "will gather to celebrate the feast of Ireland's national saint. Such good-natured events represent a tribute to the contributions made to those societies by uncounted thousands of Irish emigrants [in] the last century."

The paper recounts the story of St. Patrick: "Sold into Ireland as a slave, he returned in later years to bring Christianity to its people and to become a powerful symbol of Irishness abroad." On this St. Patrick's Day, Irish government ministers "will attend parades in 35 cities, involving 15 countries on five continents."

These visits abroad lure tourism, trade, and investment to Ireland. The paper says St. Patrick's Day, with its "light-hearted celebrations, is an invaluable opportunity to make connections with the Irish diaspora and [to] showcase [modern] Ireland."

The paper writes: "Today is an occasion for joy and for pride in our Irishness. In celebrating St Patrick, however, we should reflect on the Christian message he brought to this island and treat migrant workers and asylum seekers with the generosity and compassion so often shown to Irish people abroad. Newcomers have the capacity to enrich our society, both culturally and economically."

Ireland is "becoming a multi-cultural society. It is a development we should embrace on this St Patrick's Day."

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