Prague, 18 April 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Several items in the Western press today explore United Nations sanctions on Iraq, as the embargo is being reconsidered following the collapse of the regime in Baghdad. Other topics include North Korea's decision to take part in multilateral talks with the United States and regional powers over its nuclear weapons program, Moscow's opposition to a new Georgian-U.S. security agreement and the ongoing debate over the reconstruction of Iraq.
An editorial in Britain's "The Guardian" takes a look at the debate over lifting UN sanctions on Iraq. The move to end Iraq's economic isolation has "the potential to spark more division and position-taking" within the UN as well as delay shipments of aid to Iraq. But it "also offers the possibility of compromise, an outcome that would begin to ease, if not heal, the wounds of the war."
U.S. President George W. Bush called this week for the sanctions to be lifted, now that deposed President Saddam Hussein is gone from Baghdad. This would "make it easier to sell Iraqi oil, thus raising money to help pay for the reconstruction of the country" following the collapse of the regime. The paper says the U.S. administration is right to seek Iraq's reintegration into global trade relations, the revitalization of its economy, and the "easing [of] the material plight" under which Iraqis now live. The problem, however, lies in deciding how these goals will be achieved.
In Europe, there are fears the United States wants to see the sanctions lifted, but will then undercut attempts to ensure an international role in rebuilding Iraq, its administration, and renewed weapons inspections. "The Guardian" calls these fears "real" and "well founded." Such concerns are responsible for "the initial coolness towards Mr. Bush's call expressed by Russia and, to a lesser extent, the EU yesterday."
But the paper warns that the postwar debate must not degenerate into another diplomatic standoff at the UN.
THE CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR:
An editorial in "The Christian Science Monitor" says the United States "wants to help Iraq sell its oil as soon as possible to pay for reconstruction and basic services. Unfortunately, the prewar, antiwar alliance of France and Russia is holding hostage the authority needed from the UN to allow oil exports." The paper says that as two of the five permanent Security Council members with veto powers, France and Russia "want the United Nations to be put in charge of Iraq for now, [and] they also want to protect their prewar oil interests there."
The UN has the authority to lift the sanctions, but a key condition is that Iraq is found to be free of weapons of mass destruction. The editorial says as the United States continues its search for such weapons, welcoming UN weapons inspectors to join in the search could be "the first step in an eventual compromise." But it warns, another drawn-out UN debate, "like the one in the few months before the war, won't serve the Iraqi people's urgent needs."
THE NEW YORK TIMES:
Writing in "The New York Times," former "Wall Street Journal" correspondent Claudia Rosett says UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan should investigate the accounts of the Iraqi sanctions regime and the oil-for-food program, the mandate for which is due to expire on 12 May.
The oil-for-food program involves "astronomical amounts of money," she says, and it "operates with alarming secrecy." While it was intended "to ease the human cost of economic sanctions by letting Iraq sell oil and use the profits for staples like milk and medicine, the program has morphed into big business. Since its inception, the program has overseen more than $100 billion in contracts for oil exports and relief imports."
But the quantities of goods in the shipments are confidential, and the descriptions of what they contain are vague enough to be "meaningless." The specific suppliers of any such goods are also often kept secret. Rosett says placing such "a veil of secrecy over tens of billions of dollars in contracts is an invitation to kickbacks, political back-scratching and smuggling done under cover of relief operations." There is "no independent external audit of the program."
Rosett says lifting the sanctions "would take away the United Nations' remaining leverage in Iraq. If the oil-for-food operation is extended, however, it will have a tremendous influence on shaping the new Iraq." But before that happens, she says, the accounts need to be audited.
Wieland Schneider in the Austrian daily "Die Presse" says one of the most wanted men in the former Yugoslavia "is fast losing his aides." Former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic is charged with leading the slaughter of thousands of Bosnian Muslims and Croats. He has twice been indicted by the UN war crimes tribunal in The Hague and his arrest, Schneider says, would be "a vital success."
The drive to bring to justice those involved in the murder of Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic on 12 March has led to the arrest of businessman Momcilo Mandic, who is accused of financially supporting Karadzic and may know about the ex-president's whereabouts.
Schneider says Mandic probably knows where Karadzic is hiding and his arrest might tighten the noose around Karadzic's neck, but whether it will lead to his apprehension remains uncertain.
Britain's "The Independent" says the "perfunctory" declaration on Iraq issued by the European Union at the end of its Athens summit on 16-17 April might have smoothed some of the division within Europe, but it "left the fissure between Europe and the United States as glaringly wide as ever." The EU also called for the UN to play a "central" role in Iraq's rehabilitation, while reminding the U.S.-U.K. coalition that it is responsible for postwar security and aid distribution.
The editorial goes on to say that in looking at the postconflict chaos that seems to reign for the moment in Iraq, opponents of the war "see the lawlessness as evidence that the U.S., and to a lesser extent Britain, are out of their depth." The war's supporters "argue that the overthrow of a tyrannical regime is a matter for rejoicing and the cheering crowds are vindication of the military action. Looting and disorder, they say, and even ethnic conflict are just a temporary reaction to sudden freedom from repression. Things will sort themselves out; once rid of their pent-up frustrations, Iraqis will seize their chance for democracy and govern themselves responsibly and well."
It might be wise to reserve judgment for now, says the paper. "The removal of Saddam Hussein is a positive development." But "chaos and suffering [are] to be deplored." The war "should never have happened. Now that it has, those who fought it and those who opposed it have a duty to give post-Saddam Iraq the best possible start."
Hans Kronspiess, writing in "Die Presse," comments on the EU summit in Athens, which was convened primarily to secure the forthcoming EU membership of 10 new states next year.
But it was Iraq's future that dominated the summit, Kronspiess says, and unlike previous wrangling among nations divided over the war, "this may be sold as a remarkable demonstration of unity," which eclipsed the differences between antiwar French President Jacques Chirac and British Prime Minister Tony Blair.
Of course, Kronspiess adds, the unity in Athens also masked "inherent disputes." Statements in Athens saying the EU "would play a central role at the UN in rebuilding Iraq" were extremely vague. There were no specifics as to when and how central, which Kronspiess says was probably for the best, since such questions might have made it impossible to issue a common declaration.
Kronspiess points out that Europe seems to be united only when "significant details are ignored." This could bode well for the future EU Constitution, he says wryly. Since the first draft, over 1,000 amendments have been tabled. But perhaps its final wording will be "fuzzy enough to enable the adoption of a Constitution on time."
Writing in "Eurasia View," CIS affairs analyst Sergei Blagov says a new security pact between Georgia and the United States is causing consternation in Moscow. Some Russian officials have warned that the agreement threatens the strategic balance in the Caucasus.
Georgia has emerged as a point of competition between the United States and Russia in the past few years. Both nations seek influence in the oil- and gas-rich Caspian Basin, and both maintain a military presence in Georgia. Tbilisi's new pact with Washington, ratified in late March, allows U.S. military personnel visa-free travel to and from Georgia and gives them immunity from prosecution in Georgian courts. The U.S. military is also allowed to deploy without restriction on Georgian territory.
It is a known goal of President Eduard Shevardnadze's to diminish Russia's influence in the region in favor of an increased security alignment with Washington, Blagov says. But Shevardnadze's bilateral pact with Washington "has yet to produce any concrete consequences for Russian security interests." Nevertheless, Moscow sees the U.S.-Georgian agreement as part of "a disturbing trend." Since the 11 September 2001 attacks, the United States has expanded its presence throughout the region and in the former Soviet republics overall. Some in Moscow view this as a U.S. bid for expanded control over a strategic region. And Tbilisi's latest moves toward Washington have sparked renewed tensions with Moscow.
INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE:
The "International Herald Tribune" says "Brinkmanship has given way to diplomacy" between the United States and North Korea now that Pyongyang has agreed to take part in multilateral talks with Washington and Beijing to discuss dismantling its nuclear facilities. North Korea had originally insisted on one-on-one talks with Washington.
"The urgency of resolving this problem cannot be overemphasized," says the paper. North Korea has withdrawn from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and is pursuing methods of producing fuel for nuclear weapons. If no agreement is reached in the upcoming talks, the paper says Pyongyang could be producing nuclear weapons at a rate of one a month by late summer.
Pressure from China was probably the most significant factor in persuading Pyongyang to agree to a three-way meeting, says the paper. Most of North Korea's "imported fuel is from China, [and without] Chinese oil, the North's military would grind to a halt. China also provides much of the food that keeps North Koreans alive after repeated harvest failures."
The paper says the goal of negotiations should be persuading Pyongyang "to give up its nuclear ambitions, rejoin the nonproliferation treaty and allow intrusive verification. There must also be a permanent halt in the building of long-range missiles." If these steps are taken, Washington is willing to consider Pyongyang's requests for "security guarantees, diplomatic recognition and economic aid."
Writing in France's "Liberation," Patrick Sabatier says aid from the international community will be "indispensible" for the rebuilding of Iraq. But for that aid to be released, the UN Security Council must lift the sanctions that remain on Iraq, meaning the reasons for them being imposed -- Iraq's illegal weapons programs -- must be eradicated. Thus, he says, chief UN weapons inspector Hans Blix must certify that Iraq is free from weapons of mass destruction. Only then can much-needed international aid begin flooding into Iraq.
Saddam Hussein's possession of weapons of mass destruction served as the pretext for the U.S. and British administrations to go to war in Iraq, says Sabatier. Now the international community waits to see if U.S.-U.K. forces can produce the evidence of these weapons.
(RFE/RL's Dora Slaba contributed to this report.)