Accessibility links

Western Press Review: Russian-U.S. Relations, Iran's Tactical Moves, And The Unfinished Job In Afghanistan

  • Khatya Chhor

Prague, 15 May 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Discussion in the Western press today focuses on this week's bomb attacks in Riyadh targeting foreign workers, Russian-U.S. relations and the blossoming strategic cooperation between the U.S. and Poland, the United States' unfinished job in Afghanistan, and Iran's recent tactical shifts in response to a perceived U.S. threat.


An editorial in "The Boston Globe" says the fact that two Jordanian children were among the victims of the 12 May bomb attacks in Riyadh underscores that this was "not the guerrilla attack of a legitimate resistance movement" but merely an act of terrorism. The paper describes the Al-Qaeda terrorist network, thought to be responsible for the Saudi bombing, as a "motley crew of spoilers."

Thus, says the paper, it is "useful to think of the campaign against Al-Qaeda not as a grandiose war against terrorism as such [but] as a protracted battle against a small number of dispersed criminals." The Boston daily says if U.S. diplomacy is flexible enough to keep many other governments involved in a campaign that requires international cooperation in intelligence and law enforcement -- rather than traditional military alliances - Al-Qaeda will eventually unravel like many now-defunct terrorist groups.

The editorial says, moreover, that these latest attacks "demonstrate that the pending withdrawal of U.S. forces from Saudi Arabia" -- often cited in the past by the group as a reason for their campaign against America -- "can hardly be expected to appease Al-Qaeda's holy warriors. They are implacable. They have to be deprived of money, tracked by many cooperating intelligence agencies, arrested, and brought to justice."

And the Saudi government must do its part, "particularly in stanching the flow of funds from wealthy Saudis" to groups and organizations with dubious ties.


"The New York Times" columnist William Safire says when U.S. President George W. Bush meets with his Russian counterpart in early June, "he will again urge President Vladimir Putin to stop supplying Iran with the means to develop nuclear weapons." Putin will then "insist, as usual," that his nuclear dealings with Iran are all for supplying Tehran with energy rather than arms.

"Bush will seem to tolerate" this assertion, says Safire. Bush will also "pretend to forget" Putin's support of Saddam Hussein at the UN Security Council. "Underneath that public rapprochement, however, will be a clear understanding in the White House that the U.S. and Russia are by no means allies." Though both nations "have some common interests, our differences are deepening: Russia is still a one-party oligarchy with dissent stifled by state-run television and has shown an affinity for murderous dictators from the Balkans to the Persian Gulf."

Yet when Bush travels on to Poland, a real alliance will be in evidence. Safire says Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski "recently demonstrated the courage to defy the Russians on his east and the Germans and French to his west" in supporting the campaign in Iraq. A "symbolic contingent of 200 Polish troops helped secure Iraq's southern oil fields"; more are now aiding stabilization efforts in the country. The Atlantic alliance "is realigning itself," Safire says.


A commentary in the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" today looks at U.S.-Russian relations just as U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell is holding another round of talks with his counterpart Igor Ivanov during his two-day visit to Moscow (14 and 15 May).

As usual there was "no shortage of flowery language," says the commentary, as Russia bestowed a "belated gift" to the United States, in an attempt to mend relations after the Kremlin's strident objections to the Iraq war. Russia's lower house of parliament, the Duma, finally ratified a nuclear-arms-reduction treaty with the United States, under which each side will cut its active nuclear arsenal by two-thirds.

Now that the war in Iraq is over, says the commentary, there is an attempt "to piece together the broken porcelain of U.S.-Russian relations." But in fact nothing has changed, since Russia still insists it should have a leading UN role in rebuilding Iraq while the U.S. "dreads any such interference in its sovereign role as the world's police."

There is another major point of contention in that the U.S. is using "thumb-screwing diplomacy" regarding Iran. The U.S. accuses Russia of assisting Iran in developing nuclear weapons by building a nuclear reactor in the country. However, the commentary says "there is no proof of this." And Russia, says the paper, resents this kind of pressure.


In a contribution to "The Wall Street Journal Europe," Poland's former Foreign Minister Andrzej Olechowski says Poland's "surprising and high-profile role in Iraq" has made Europe's relations with America a "heated [topic] of debate."

Olechowski says: "The rationale behind Poland's support for the U.S. in Iraq was simple. Our ally and friend asked us for help." The United States, as "a democracy with a sophisticated foreign policy decision-making process, decided that Saddam Hussein constituted a threat to its national security and was going to send its military to depose his regime." He says, "In our part of Europe, security is a serious issue."

Europe continues to be "an unstable environment. Russia struggles to define its national interests and its future course. The fate of Belarus, run by Europe's last tyrant, is anybody's guess. Ukraine meanders between democracy and corruption." Olechowski says under these circumstances, "you don't joke with security. That's why NATO is dead serious business for us. We care about NATO's cohesion and efficiency. We don't want to see the alliance watered-down. We object to its commitments becoming optional, a la carte."

In May 2004, Poland will join the EU. Olechowski says Poland's objective is not "merely to join the West. [It] is to unite Europe in a community based on shared values, such as human rights, democracy, market economy." And yet, he says, "security was and continues to be the single most important basis for European reconciliation."


"The New York Times" in an editorial says Iraqis that are "worried about the future of their country cannot be encouraged by what they see in Afghanistan, America's first effort at nation-building in the Islamic world. Nearly 18 months after American-backed forces ousted the Taliban from power, Afghanistan languishes in a strange limbo between war and peace."

Two major mistakes were made in Afghanistan's postwar planning, says the paper. The U.S. administration "did not adequately concern itself with issues of internal security. And it seriously underestimated the amount of aid it would take to pay for both relief and reconstruction needs." Afghanistan's ongoing security problems "have discouraged private investment and slowed the country's economic regeneration. [And] with much of the population unemployed, much of the aid has had to go into emergency relief programs. That has left far too little for projects needed to restart the economy, like repairing roads and dams, restoring electricity and telephones and repairing irrigation systems."

The paper says Washington must increase its efforts "to bring security and development to Afghanistan. And it must avoid making similar mistakes in Iraq."


"Feeling threatened by the U.S. military presence in neighboring Iraq and Afghanistan, Iranian leaders are embracing a classic deterrence concept that relies on strategic regional alliances and military preparedness" to deter aggression, writes Ariel Cohen in "Eurasia View."

"Since taking office," the U.S. administration's posture toward Tehran "has been largely hostile, with Iran designated as a member of the 'axis of evil.' Iranian leaders now believe that, in the aftermath of the U.S.-led ouster of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, Tehran may come under intensifying pressure from Washington."

During a visit to Armenia in April, Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi "proposed the creation of a regional security group comprising the three Caucasus states, along with Iran, Russian, and Turkey." But Cohen says this suggestion received a "cool reception" in the Caucasus, which are relying more on U.S. and other Western involvement to provide security to the region.

But Iran's strategic shift also emphasizes self-reliance, based in part on developing the weapons capabilities that will allow it to deter potential aggressors. Cohen cites security experts in Washington as saying this strategy may indicate Iran is renewing efforts to develop nuclear weapons. He says some U.S. defense experts "also warn that existing International Atomic Energy Agency monitoring methods and safeguards are insufficient to prevent Iran from secretly using its civilian nuclear research program to help develop weapons of mass destruction."


Writing in "Liberation," the French daily's former editor, Jacques Amalric, says the United States is discovering the difficulties of establishing and maintaining the peace in Iraq. One month after it occupied the country, the U.S. failed to establish a pretense of order in Baghdad. Three principle reasons explain America's lack of success, he says. First, the establishment of internal security was completely neglected by Washington, which never learned the lessons of its near-failure in Afghanistan. These operations have nothing to do with the military successes of battle, he says.

Second, says Amalric, the U.S. administration underestimated the extent to which Iraq would need to be rebuilt, both politically and economically. Washington also overestimated the level of enthusiasm Iraqis would have for the arrival of U.S. forces.

Finally, the United States -- always anxious to limit the role of the UN to humanitarian activities -- has deprived itself of the UN's know-how regarding peacekeeping. The success of British forces in southern Iraq attests to this, for the Britons are accustomed to peacekeeping missions in Northern Ireland and have had much more convincing results in Iraq than U.S. forces.

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