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Western Press Review: Is Iran The 'Key' To Future Democratic Middle East Or 'Rogue' Nuclear Nation?

  • Khatya Chhor

Prague, 20 June 2003 (RFE/RL) -- We begin our review of the Western media with a consideration of events in Iran. In light of over a week of daily pro-reform, student-led protests in and around Tehran, many observers are wondering how long the rule of Iran's unpopular conservative clerics can last. In a parallel development, recent weeks have brought renewed condemnations from Washington and the International Atomic Energy Agency over the opacity of Iran's nuclear program.

Also of interest to the Western press today is the EU summit taking place near Thessaloniki, Greece, and ongoing instability in Iraq, as sporadic attacks on U.S. and British forces continue.


In a contribution to Britain's "Financial Times," Iranian-American Mideast analyst Cameron Kamran says the "key to a bright future for the Middle East" lies not with Iraq but with neighboring Iran. "Iranians elect most of their leaders in free and fair elections for the president, parliament and thousands of local village councils."

Moreover, Iran "is the only Muslim nation whose people successfully staged a popular revolution against a brutal dictator." While the 1979 revolution against the Shah is often characterized as an "Islamic" revolution, this description is inaccurate, says Kamran. Revolutionary Iranians "were united more by their opposition to the Shah than by any shared religious devotion."

Kamran says: "Strip away clerical authority in Iran and what you have left is secular democracy. What is more, you have democracy based on institutions that, unlike in Iraq, are considered indigenous and established by popular mandate, instead of by an occupying power." Iran may already be on its way to becoming "the paradigm for religious reformation and democratic renewal across the Muslim world."

Analyst Kamran says the United States should encourage Iran to become a force for positive change in the region by applying "subtle but continued pressure" on the clerical regime, coupled with vocal support for the "overwhelming" pro-reform opposition.


In a news analysis in "The New York Times" reprinted in today's "International Herald Tribune," Neil MacFarquhar says ever since Iran's 1979 revolution against the Shah, tensions between Tehran and Washington have vacillated. But in the past months, the two governments "have skirmished verbally almost daily." Now that U.S. troops stationed in Iraq are only 300 miles from Tehran, the U.S. and Iran will likely either "find a way to work together to achieve some stability in the region" or they will move closer to outright confrontation.

MacFarquhar says Western analysts have perceived "a subtle shift in Iranian attitudes" due to both domestic and international concerns. A majority of Iranians support pursuing rapprochement with Washington, which MacFarquhar says might make any Iranian leader who achieves this "a national hero." Internationally, recent U.S. interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq "have made Iran's ruling clerics take notice."

MacFarquhar goes on to discuss the perceptions of Iran's conservatives clerics, saying opponents of renewing relations with the United States can be divided into three categories. The "pragmatists" would support renewed U.S. ties if Iran received enough benefits in return. The "die-hards" reject a renewal of ties under any circumstances. And those somewhere in between see the practical advantages of improved relations with Washington but are highly skeptical of U.S. intentions, given America's history of "meddling" in Iran's affairs.


An editorial in "The Wall Street Journal Europe" says the seven-year restriction on free movement of labor that will be imposed on new EU member states is an "onerous restriction." EU members France, Germany, and Austria have insisted on this limitation, fearing a flood of cheap labor from Eastern Europe into their domestic markets.

But the editorial says such "paranoia" is "unfounded." When Spain and Portugal joined the EU, France had similar fears -- yet these fears never materialized. In reality, the paper says, the EU "stands to gain much from free movement." The aging population of Western Europe "will need workers from the younger East." Moreover, "it is difficult to see how the full economic advantages of a common European market can be reaped until all the members of that market play by the same rules.

"But the more fundamental issue is one of fairness," says the paper. "Among the chief benefits of EU membership is the right freely to pursue the best life possible, wherever in the EU one finds it." There is "no reason why some people should possess that right more equally than others."


In the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung," Klaus-Dieter Frankenberger discusses the EU constitution in the making, as leaders of the European Union and the 10 countries due to join the EU next year meet for a three-day summit in Greece to discuss the EU draft constitution outlined by the Convention on the Future of Europe.

In assessing the draft, Frankenberger says that "it reflects the character of European unification and its political expression. The key characteristic of this unification process is its evolutionary character, the fact that it is never completed and probably never will be."

Frankenberger stresses the limitations of the draft, saying the constitution will not make the EU more transparent, nor will it have much impact on people's lives. Moreover, it will not help speed the EU toward much-needed reform. He says this constitutional draft is no more than an "interim" stop, and it will need to be reviewed over and over to allow it to incorporate many future amendments.


Torsten Krauel in "Die Welt" looks at the issue of European immigration and asylum policy, which is part of the agenda of the EU summit in Greece this week as government leaders attempt to establish uniform guidelines.

Krauel says it is perhaps not asking too much for the leaders to consider the issue in light of experience since 1989, when an estimated half a million people entered the EU illegally. The EU population, especially those in low-income brackets, felt threatened by the influx and were "very sensitive to this issue." They feared that a moral policy was being pursued at their economic expense. "It would be politically wise," says Krauel, "not to overtax their patience." Especially as it seems people are slowly coming to terms with the presence of foreigners in their countries. A policy enabling uncontrolled immigration would bring this change of attitude to a halt and "nobody who is accountable for Europe's future can afford to take responsibility for such a development," Krauel concludes.


Writing in "The Washington Post," columnist David Ignatius says U.S. Iraq administrator Paul Bremer's cautious "crisis-management style" is slowing the transition of power to the Iraqi people. Bremer recently canceled a mayoral election in Al-Najaf, presumably due to fears "that candidates hostile to the United States would win." Earlier, plans for a meeting of 300 Iraqi political leaders in July were abandoned in favor of appointing a 30-member council instead.

Ignatius says: "Bremer's delays are understandable, given the ragged security situation in Iraq. But they are a mistake. The more slowly political change goes in Iraq, the more headlines you're likely to read about U.S. soldiers being gunned down in a grinding war of pacification."

Bremer's success "should be measured by his ability to give up control to the Iraqis, not by his ability to gain more control for the Coalition Provisional Authority he heads."

A major aspect of Iraq's rehabilitation will be its ability to get its oil industry up and running to produce revenues. But for that to happen, initial foreign investment will be needed. And investors need to feel certain "they are dealing with a legitimate Iraqi government so their commitments will be protected." Ignatius says Bremer's "occupation government" has "no [authority] to make long-term deals."


Writing in Britain's daily "The Guardian," Seumas Milne says amid Iraq's "rampant lawlessness, insecurity, looting of all public institutions, destruction of national treasures [and] epidemic of murder and robbery," it is "little wonder that most Iraqis appear to find it hard to see themselves as having been liberated."

He says U.S. and British officials engaged in a crude "self-delusion" by assuming "that because most Iraqis wanted an end to the Saddam [Hussein] regime they would accept the imposition of a foreign occupation to replace it."

And the situation "seems bound to get worse," Milne says, as the Iraqi resistance "fights a war of attrition" and Anglo-American occupation forces send recruits to the side of the guerrillas by launching "brutal and misdirected counterattacks."

In Basra on 15 June, and again on 17 June, "thousands demonstrated outside British headquarters chanting slogans against" U.S. and British leaders "and demanding the right to rule themselves." Milne says the Anglo-American occupation "is achieving nothing for Iraqis they could not more effectively achieve for themselves. The sooner political pressure builds to end it and negotiate an orderly withdrawal, the better for all of us."

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