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Western Press Review: Iran's Demonstrations, Iraqi Instability, And The Czechs' EU Approval

  • Khatya Chhor

Prague, 16 June 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Several major Western dailies today discuss the widescale demonstrations taking place in Iran, as thousands of students stage protest marches in the capital, Tehran. Other discussion focuses on the Czech Republic's 77.3 percent approval of EU membership in a weekend referendum and ongoing instability in Iraq.


The leading editorial in the British "Times" today describes Czech support for EU accession as "enthusiastic," after 77 percent of voters approved membership in the 14-15 June referendum. "The Times" says now that all but two countries have approved entering the EU ahead of its "most ambitious expansion" -- which will bring Malta, Cyprus, the three Baltic states, and five Eastern European nations into the union -- there is "an almost palpable sense of relief." Estonia and Latvia will face public referendums on membership later this year.

But "The Times" says even while diplomats "are already congratulating themselves" on completing the post-Cold War reunification of Europe, "Undercurrents of unease [are] likely to surface once the euphoria of accession wears off." Czech voters, for example, "have high, often unrealistic expectations that EU entry now will guarantee them a steady march toward ever greater prosperity." Former Soviet accession countries in general "have worked for years to deregulate their old command economies," and now must adopt EU mandates "on everything from farm subsidies to hygiene standards."

The EU's draft constitution might prove another source of contention, says the paper. The Convention on the Future of Europe has produced a document "that whittles away the institutional rights that smaller entrants [had] expected to enjoy."

"The Times" predicts that "a backlash of resentment is inevitable." After joining, "the new countries will energetically make their national voices, and doubts, heard."


"The New York Times" says Iran's "unpopular and economically failing" regime "now faces serious challenges from several directions. University students question its legitimacy in the streets. Reformist politicians seek wider powers for the elected parliament." And Washington continues to demand "an end to Tehran's nuclear weapons development and support for terrorism."

The paper says what is fueling Iran's internal unrest is "the explosive discontent of the Iranian people, especially the young and the educated." Middle-class Iranians, meanwhile, take part in "quieter and less risky forms of protest."

"The New York Times" says, "After nearly 25 years of an Islamic dictatorship that has drastically limited personal freedoms and stunted economic growth, the Iranian people are eager for change." And they are "frustrated with the timidity and limited accomplishments of the reformist leaders they have repeatedly backed with overwhelming electoral majorities."


The British "Independent" says Iran is "approaching a decisive moment." For the past several days, student-led demonstrations have taken place throughout the capital, Tehran.

The paper says Britain's policy of engagement with Iran makes "good sense," while the more confrontational U.S. policy may prove counterproductive. U.S. President George W. Bush categorized Iran as part of an axis of evil, along with North Korea and Iraq, which set Washington on a collision course with the regime. Now the United States has "aggressively warned Iran against interfering" in neighboring Iraq "while continuing to accuse it of harboring terrorists and seeking to acquire nuclear weapons."

The effect of the U.S. policy is to strengthen Iran's conservative clerics, "The Independent" says. The mullahs portray the student reformers as pro-American, which tarnishes their legitimacy in Iranian eyes. Most recall the U.S.- and British-sponsored 1953 overthrow of Iran's democratically elected Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadeq and the installation of the pro-Western Shah.

"The Independent" says, "So damaged is American credibility in the region that even engagement carries risks. President Bush's best course would be simply to allow the internal dynamics of Iran to play themselves out." Iran's nuclear program "is not a secret," and "it is monitored by international inspectors. Those inspections should continue, and diplomatic pressure should be maintained to encourage Iran to sign up fully to nuclear non-proliferation treaties."


Writing in "The Daily Telegraph," Will Day of the humanitarian aid group Care International UK says: "It is now two months since the coalition forces swept away the old regime with promises of a brighter future. At the moment Iraq is in limbo. It is a country still waiting to be 'saved,' and in the meantime there is a dangerous vacuum where there is no security, no law and order, no visible way out of this chaos. Nobody seems to be in charge."

He says the Anglo-American coalition's "apparent inability to restore and maintain law and order [suggests] that it is stretched beyond its capacity." Day calls for a different approach to the reconstruction of Iraq, "based on a UN-led civilian administration supporting the return of sovereignty to Iraq's people."

"What is needed is action and it is needed soon," he writes. "The opportunity to improve the situation in Iraq, to assist ordinary Iraqis and gain their support in a post-conflict structure, is slipping through the fingers of the coalition." And the world knows "from first-hand experience" in Afghanistan and elsewhere, "of the consequences of a failure to follow up on armed intervention." The parallel between those situations and today's Iraq "is uncomfortable and telling," he says.


In a contribution to the "International Herald Tribune," George Ward of the United States Institute of Peace says the long-term goals in Iraq today are "public security, a transition to a representative system of government, and the creation of a free-market economy." To achieve these aims, he says, three steps are needed.

First, "within two months every Iraqi police station should receive a small group of trained international advisers, armed and with power of arrest." Second, "as soon as the oil industry begins turning a profit on exports, every Iraqi family should be given a monthly payment." Ward says this move "would instantly dispel the popular myth that the coalition's intent was to seize Iraq's oil assets," as well as "eliminate widespread dependence on government food rations [and] jump-start the consumer economy."

Finally, ahead of the formation of an Iraqi interim administration, Anglo-American planners "should help start grassroots forums on shaping the country in each of Iraq's 18 provinces." Iraq is "divided by religious, ethnic, tribal, and ideological schisms," he says. "No democratic Iraqi government will long survive unless it maintains popular support. By creating a nationwide dialogue, the coalition could foster the emergence of a new generation of leaders able to rise above tribal and religious divisions."


Writing in the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung," Michael Frank discusses the Czech Republic's strong vote in favor of European Union entry. In the first ever referendum in the Czech Republic the issue at stake was political as well as economic. Politically, says Frank, history has made Czechs wary of "claims of imperial power." Even this time, he says, it was not always easy for them to differentiate between being coerced once again into a subordinate position and "joining a community of their own free will."

In considering Czech history, Frank says it is even more commendable that they voted with a "vociferous 'yes'." The Czechs are pragmatic enough to realize that the EU is not in dire need of their country, but that it needs the EU. The Czechs have overcome "their traditional tendency to isolate themselves in the hard-won awareness that they are something very special in Central Europe." Moreover, Frank concludes, the referendum has shown that Czechs, who are geographically closer to Germany "than they have ever cared to be" now see in a common Europe "a bright future, even in close proximity to their German neighbors."


Rudolph Chimelli in the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" looks at U.S.-Iranian relations. He says since the U.S. has won the battle against Iraq, "Iran and the U.S. are now in the finals."

There is now a fairly strong core group of reform-inclined intellectuals in Iran. An obstacle, however, is their lack of international experience: They have no first-hand knowledge of the economy and hence serve more as an avant-garde than an inspiration for practical reforms. On the other hand, the United States -- during its 25-year-long absence from Iran -- has maintained contacts only with emigres, who did not understand their compatriots even while still living in Iran. "This does not bode well for a rapprochement," says Chimelli, even though many of those in power, including President Mohammed Khatami, would be prepared to renew relations with the United States.

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