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Western Press Review: Deconstructing Iran's Nuclear Ambitions, The Search For Iraq's Elusive WMD

  • Khatya Chhor

Prague, 25 April 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Among the topics addressed in the opinion and editorial pages of the Western press today are the ongoing -- and so far unsuccessful -- search for Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction, the need for a "de-Ba'athification" of politics in Baghdad, and deconstructing Iran's nuclear ambitions. We also take a look at Germany's "love-hate" relationship with America and the resurgence of the Taliban along the Afghan-Pakistani border.


"The Guardian's" lead editorial today takes the British leadership to task for its alarmism over Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction (WMD), since as yet none has been found. "If [British Defense Secretary] Geoff Hoon thinks questions about Iraq's mysteriously missing weapons of mass destruction will go away, he is seriously mistaken. Disarming Saddam [Hussein] was the prime casus belli" for the war against Iraq. "But where now is the evidence justifying that decision?"

For the British leadership to assert that the former Iraqi leadership has successfully hidden its WMD contradicts previous claims that Iraq was practically overflowing with dangerous weapons. Such statements are also "an unintended [yet] deserved vindication" of UN chief weapons inspector Hans Blix. "Rather than launch into a war, all Mr. Blix wanted was more time to complete his inspections. This he was flatly denied." Now, the same British and American leaders who denied Blix more time now say they need more time to find these alleged weapons, "despite almost total U.S.-British physical control of Iraq."

The longer this situation remains, "the stronger the suspicion [will be that the British leadership], egged on by the U.S., greatly exaggerated the WMD threat posed by Iraq." Now both the British and U.S. leadership are caviling at the idea of resumed UN-led inspections, in a stance "The Guardian" calls "bad policy and bad politics." It says, "Only the UN -- and not unnamed, supposedly 'objective' countries hand-picked by the [U.S.] Pentagon -- can do this job convincingly."


In a contribution to "The Washington Post," Ray Takeyh of the National Defense University discusses Iran's recent revelations that it has uranium enrichment facilities at Natanz and intends to advance its nuclear program. Takeyh says these indications have prompted a "dire assessment" in Washington of Tehran's intentions. But the debate over crossing the nuclear threshold is far from over in Iran, and Takeyh says a "more imaginative U.S. policy could still influence the outcome of this debate."

Iran's nuclear ambitions are not "irrational," but stem "rather from a judicious attempt to create a viable deterrent capability against a range of regional threats." Iraq has dominated Iranian defense priorities for two decades, prompting Iran to consider the nuclear option as a deterrent against Saddam Hussein, a dictator who had already used weapons of mass destruction against Iranian cities.

With the demise of Hussein, the United States is now Iran's greatest strategic concern. Washington's new doctrine of preemption and the increased U.S. presence in the region have sparked fears that "regime change" in Tehran might be next. In a bid similar to recent North Korean moves, Tehran is now "brandishing its nuclear program to strengthen its leverage vis-a-vis the American colossus."

Takeyh says that "shrill rhetoric" from Washington is unlikely to end proliferation in the Middle East or in Asia. Instead, a "more clever diplomacy of integrating Iran into the regional security architecture and global economy would provide Tehran with an incentive to adhere to its nonproliferation commitments."


In the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung," Alfons Kaiser examines the love-hate relationship Germans have with the United States. On the one hand, he says there is no denying the American influence on German lifestyle, including its food, drinks, fashion, language, music, and movies; some Germans have even adopted the easygoing manner of Americans. Kaiser says, "The practical dynamic, the fast and sporty approach, gives Americans a big advantage over the Germans, who are burdened as they are with their traditions."

On the other hand, the public mood in Germany in recent weeks has turned not against the U.S.-led war against Iraq, which Kaiser says is viewed "as the U.S. pursuing a drive toward hegemony, using its immense power to take complete political and economic control."

Kaiser interprets growing resentment against Americans "as a symptom of frustration that the Germans cannot keep up with the Americans in everyday life. In fact, the anti-Americanism seems to be somewhat confused," he says. These criticisms "will have more validity when the critics surmount their own internal contradictions," Kaiser says.


"The Wall Street Journal" in an editorial criticizes recent suggestions from various quarters that members of Iraq's former ruling Ba'ath Party should be given a role in a new Iraqi government. "Iraq needs de-Ba'athification just as badly as Germany needed de-Nazification," the paper says. "De-Nazification was the sine qua non of Germany's economic, political, and social revival."

In the years following World War II, the Nazi Party "was banned and its members rounded up and sent to tribunals." Some stood trial and others were banned from holding public positions. But today, "to the surprise of many Iraqis who thought they were starting afresh," some are suggesting that Saddam Hussein's Ba'ath Party be "only partly dismantled, [and some] members explicitly rehabilitated to help rebuild the country they terrorized."

But a population that has lived "as long as Iraqis have under such a brutal dictatorship will [need] to undergo an extensive period of re-education that entails discovering historical truths and a sense of individual responsibility, [if] political life, civil society and democratic institutions are to develop." This was seen in postwar Germany, "and it has been borne out since." Countries that have come to terms with the past injustices "have been more successful than those -- like Russia -- which have swept them under the rug."

The editorial concludes, "It is important for Iraqis and the world to know that the country will be rebuilt by those untainted by service to such a regime."


On 23 April, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf and Afghan Transitional Authority Chairman Hamid Karzai agreed to expand their cooperation on antiterrorism issues. The Afghan government had long alleged that Taliban forces use areas of Pakistan to stage cross-border operations into Afghanistan.

Writing in "Eurasia View," Central Asian affairs analyst Ahmed Rashid says, "senior Afghan officials believe that Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar is hiding out in Pakistan, and that the Taliban is utilizing Pakistan as an effective safe haven to regroup and revitalize its military capabilities." As for Islamabad, Musharraf's administration is concerned about both domestic and international consequences if it acknowledges that Pakistan has become a safe haven for Taliban leaders.

A two-day visit this week by Karzai and other Afghan officials to Pakistan brought with it a "tough message" for Musharraf regarding the need for Islamabad to improve border security and step up antiterrorist operations. But author Rashid says Karzai's strong words were also, "in part, a product of quickly eroding U.S. patience for Pakistan's ongoing, clandestine support for the Taliban."


An analysis by A. Gizabi in "Jane's Islamic Affairs Analyst" also discusses the recent resurgence in violence involving the Taliban along the Afghan-Pakistani border. Extremist religious forces have received a boost from an increase in anti-Western sentiment fueled by the war in Iraq and have renewed calls for a "holy war" against the West. A "coalescence of opposition to the U.S.-backed government in Kabul, the war in Iraq, and the success of religious parties in Pakistan lies behind the renewed violence in Afghanistan," Gizabi says. The execution-style killing of an International Red Cross worker led many aid groups to close down operations in southern Afghanistan in or near Kandahar.

Throughout April, joint security operations between Afghan troops and U.S. Special Forces were carried out in provinces throughout Afghanistan. Operations in the southeast provinces arrested "several hundred people," including the former commerce minister for the Taliban, Mullah Abdur Razeq. The leadership in Ghazni Province alleged that 80 people arrested in the area had infiltrated from Pakistan to destabilize the government in Kabul. Six former senior officials from the Taliban were among those apprehended.

"It has become increasingly difficult to distinguish between the Taliban and Al-Qaeda message," Gizabi writes. Both call "for 'holy war' against 'Jews and Crusaders,' which they accuse of wanting to dominate the Islamic world." Moreover, these groups "suggest a common cause exists among Afghans, Pakistanis, Iraqis and Palestinians." But so far, Afghans have generally "not been receptive" to the Taliban's assertions, instead recalling "the brutality and terror" of Taliban rule.


Writing in Britain's "The Guardian," columnist Martin Woollacott says, "Empty hotels and canceled flights mark the path which Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS, has followed." While the tourism and travel industry is among the first to be affected, SARS' long-term effects "will go much deeper," he says. The World Trade Organization (WTO) has already revised its growth forecasts downward due to the effects of the disease. While it has not achieved epidemic levels, SARS is already having an effect beyond its immediate victims and their families by impacting the broader economic picture.

Woollacott says this new and spreading disease is shaking the Western world out of a sense of complacency and undermining its erstwhile faith "that protection from serious infectious diseases is a sort of human right." A "reluctant consciousness" may now be dawning that "there can be no guarantee" against an obscure and mysterious microbe obtaining the upper hand and spreading like wildfire over vast swaths of the human population.

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