Accessibility links

Western Press Review: Turmoil In Iran, Agricultural Reform, And Iraq

  • Khatya Chhor

Prague, 17 June 2003 (RFE/RL) -- A review of commentary in the Western media today finds discussion of Iran's alleged nuclear program and the ongoing political protests in Tehran, the success story of Brcko in Bosnia-Herzegovina, reforming the Western agricultural policies that perpetuate Third World poverty, and ongoing instability in Iraq.


Writing in the "International Herald Tribune," columnist Philip Bowring says the decision of Western nations to continue subsidizing their relatively wealthy agriculture sectors is contributing significantly to poverty in the developing world.

Both Europe and the United States subsidize their farmers, which gives them a market advantage that drives out goods produced by farmers in poorer nations. Such policies are maintained even while the West insists developing nations drop any of their own such measures geared toward protecting their industries.

Bowring says some European nations are adopting trade policies that are "selfish and shortsighted." Last week, Germany and France "cut [a] deal" that would appear to rule out reforming Europe's agriculture sector, "without which progress at the World Trade Organization is impossible." The deal halts cuts in subsidies and allows them to persist even when a sector is overproducing. "So much for [French] President Jacques Chirac's oft-touted concern for the poor world," Bowring writes.

Bowring says Europe's annual agriculture subsidies of $50 billion is "the biggest single contributor to Third World poverty." He calls on Western political leaders to recognize that misguided trade policies "threaten their own prosperity." He says a "failure to achieve farm trade reform is a greater threat to world harmony and prosperity than any single disease or weapon of mass destruction."


In "The New York Times," Mark Landler writes from Brcko in Bosnia-Herzegovina, the site of much violence between Bosnian Serbs and Muslims. Landler says today, Brcko is the only city in Bosnia where Muslims, Serbs, and Croats are mandated to attend school together.

He calls the city "a remarkable success story [that] offers lessons for the United States as it embarks [on] nation-building in Iraq." Brcko is a city of 85,000 with "the highest per capita income in the country, a balanced budget" and continuing modernization. Ethnic tensions still exist, but they "seem to have been relegated to the status of a distraction for which the busy people have no time."

Some of Brcko's success "is due to money," says Landler. The city has received $2 million a year in direct U.S. aid in addition to another $65 million in foreign aid. But the real lesson of Brcko, he says, "is that would-be nation-builders should install a powerful interim administrator, who is unafraid of defying the local political bosses."

Landler adds: "Henry L. Clarke, an American diplomat who became Brcko's third supervisor in April 2001, turned the tide. He has imposed one law -- on integrating the schools -- over the objections of the city council. He has annulled two others, dismissed local officials and business chiefs, and rammed through reforms."

Landler suggests it was a mistake for the United States to insist on early elections in Bosnia that merely "entrenched corrupt leaders," who then undermined economic reforms. But with real power and some cash, an interim administrator "can override ethnic loyalties and turn local attention to establishing the rule of law and business-friendly policies."


A commentary in the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" looks at Iran's reaction to pressure from the UN, the United States, Russia, and the European Union to agree to a stricter nuclear inspections regime amid mounting international concern that Tehran is trying to develop nuclear weapons.

The commentary says atomic bombs have once again come into fashion as an effective tool for exerting pressure. Armed with a nuclear arsenal, "weak, unstable governments become strong and untouchable."

In North Korea as well as Iran, nuclear weapons are key to gaining political and economic advantage.

In Iran the pressure from abroad also has an impact at home, as conservative clerics try to suppress the political opposition. Given these circumstances, the commentary says, seeking reform in Iran must involve proceeding with caution and making use of international mechanisms such as the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). International pressure will help, says the paper -- but demands specifically from the United States could also prove damaging.


In the German daily "Die Welt," Evangelos Antonaros discusses ongoing student-led demonstrations against the regime in Tehran. He says the protesters have learned from past mistakes and are moving extremely cautiously. "It is a surprisingly quiet protest," he says, even though thousands have taken to the streets of Tehran in the past six days. He describes the pervasive suspicion in the capital. Students communicate using hand signs so their voices are not identified. Drivers who honk their horns in support of the demonstrations have covered their license plates. In light of the persecutions that followed previous protests, people are afraid of the potential for brutal suppression. Hence, says Antonaros, the protest movement lacks a clear structure, as well as clear opposition leaders -- for they are all well aware of the drastic measures Tehran used in the past to suppress such political unrest.


Writing in "The Wall Street Journal Europe," Elena Bonner of the Andrei Sakharov foundation says over the past three years, President Vladimir Putin's Russia has seen "the systematic dismantling of democratic institutions, the suppression of independent media, and the instigation of nationalism and xenophobia. But the gravest crime perpetrated by the government is the ongoing genocidal war in Chechnya," which has resulted in 180,000 dead and 350,000 displaced persons.

Oppressive regimes like Putin's often like to "decorate themselves with fake attributes of democracy -- sham elections, a servile judiciary, manipulated media. In today's Russia," she says, "the masquerade is called 'managed democracy.'" And Moscow often stages "quasi-democratic" exercises for the benefit of world leaders. "Thus, the recent Chechen 'referendum' that was no referendum, and the 'amnesty' [for Chechen fighters] that was no amnesty."

Bonner says "another falsification of Moscow's 'managed democracy' has been unfolding in a London court," where moderate Chechen leader Akhmed Zakayev is fighting an extradition request by Russia. But she says Zakayev's innocence "was established in December when Denmark threw out [the] fake Russian charges."

Bonner writes: "I am told that the appeasement of 'managed democracy' is the necessary evil needed to keep an important ally within the coalition against terror." But "legitimizing false democracy, false justice and a make-believe war on terror [in Chechnya] casts doubt on the real things, particularly for those who, like myself, continue to value them."


"The New York Times's" Nicholas Kristof writes from Qurna, Iraq, where the Tigris and Euphrates rivers meet, thought to be the legendary site of the Garden of Eden.

He describes the town's people as "mostly thrilled when American and British troops rolled through town [to] oust Saddam [Hussein]." But almost three months later, Kristof says, Qurna's initial enthusiasm is turning sour, as "electricity and water services still haven't fully resumed, factories and schools remain closed, banditry rules, and people are even hungrier than before."

"The mood in Iraq has gotten uglier since I was last here during the war and its immediate aftermath," writes Kristof. "My fear is that having won the war, we may now be blowing the peace. Many ordinary Iraqis are enraged at the collapse of security, and we need to act much more quickly and decisively to establish order -- or Iraq could slip through our fingers and fragment." Few people brave the streets at night, while carjackings and armed robberies are commonplace. Kristof says it will take "tremendous concentration and effort -- including thousands more ground troops -- for [the U.S.] to rescue the Iraqi peace and turn places like Qurna back into anything approaching Eden."


Writing in Belgium's "Le Soir," Phillipe Regnier says Europe has now joined the United States in taking a tougher stance toward Tehran. The 15 foreign ministers of the EU member states met in Luxembourg on 16 June and issued a tough new declaration calling on Iran to conform with additional protocols of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty.

For the EU, says Regnier, Tehran's conformity with these demands would be a significant step toward demonstrating that Iran's nuclear program is intended for peaceful purposes only. The EU foreign ministers stated that certain aspects of Tehran's nuclear program were "serious" reason for concern, bringing EU policy on Iran further in accord with Washington's.

Regnier says this harsh European tone is new. Last year, the EU decided not to follow Washington's lead in taking a tough stance toward "axis of evil" nations Iran, Iraq, and North Korea. In June 2002, the European Commission sought to negotiate a cooperation and trade agreement with Tehran, restoring links between Europe and Iran's oil- and gas-rich resources. This agreement was also meant to strengthen the position of Iran's reformist President Mohammed Khatami, whose attempts at liberalization are regularly stymied by the conservative mullahs.

The EU 15 emphasized that in opening these negotiations, they had hoped to foster positive developments in Iran in the areas of human rights, non-proliferation, and terrorism in the region. But the foreign ministers now say they continue to have significant concern on these issues.

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