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Western Press Review: Pursuing A 'Hands-Off' Policy On Iran While Iraqi Resistance Simmers Next Door

  • Khatya Chhor

Prague, 26 June 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Among the topics discussed in the major Western dailies today are Russian President Vladimir Putin's state visit to Britain, supporting democratic reform in Iran by not getting involved, the new paradigm for trans-Atlantic relations, and simmering opposition to the Anglo-American occupation in Iraq.


A "New York Times" editorial says the state honors bestowed on Russian President Vladimir Putin during his official visit to London this week must be combined with straight talk about Russia's involvement with Iran's nuclear program, the recent closure of Russia's last independent television station, North Korea's nuclear ambitions, and what is happening within Russia.

The paper says all the "pomp is fine, so long as nobody forgets that the Kremlin pulled the plug this week on Russia's last independent television channel, or that a lot of people are still dying in Chechnya, or that for all of Mr. Putin's declarations, Russians are still involved in Iran's nuclear program."

Moreover, says the paper, there is "a lot more the Kremlin could do abroad to dissuade North Korea from its nuclear blackmail."

More progress needs to be made inside Russia, as well, says "The New York Times." "Businessmen and officials are still being assassinated in the streets, endemic corruption and a feeble rule of law choke new businesses, and there's a worrisome number of Mr. Putin's former KGB comrades in high places."

The editorial concludes: "It is proper to encourage Mr. Putin. But it is equally important not to look the other way when he gets off the track."


Writing in the "Christian Science Monitor," Bahman Baktiari of Maine University's International Affairs Program says U.S. President George W. Bush's verbal encouragement of pro-reform student demonstrations in Iran may satisfy those based in Washington, "but it is not helping the pro-democracy movement inside Iran."

"If anything," Baktiari says, "U.S. rhetoric fuels antidemocratic forces in Iran." Bush's "best course would be simply to allow the internal momentum of Iranian politics to move at its own speed."

Nor should the Bush administration "jump to the conclusion" that Iran is ready for a "democratic revolution," he says. "While protesters have been clear on what they do not want, they have yet to articulate an alternative."

Even so, says Baktiari, what is happening in today's Iran "is the most promising trend in the Muslim world: a gradual secularization taking place from below." While students take to the streets, "the most important battle is being waged by intellectuals, religious thinkers and politicians who are trying to blend constitutional democracy with a redefined Islam that limits itself to inspiring social norms, not running a state."


The persistent differences between the U.S. and EU as they concluded their annual summit in Washington yesterday are the subject of a commentary in the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung."

The paper describes the latest dispute over the U.S. export of genetically modified foods as "intense" and rather "heated." Disagreement on this issue, however -- although it gave the meeting "a certain shrill tone" -- is a perennial quarrel and is not responsible for "the explosive relationship" right now between Washington and the EU.

The commentary says there are some who believe America is changing its attitude toward the EU, that the Bush administration wants to undermine European unity and split the organization, since it would be easier to influence if divided.

This accusation, however, is debatable, says the "FAZ." If it were true, then observers should be worried about America's foresight. "It may be fun to divide nations," says the paper, "but it cannot be a serious goal."

Naturally, Europe "will set its own priorities and act as a rival. But a weak Europe would hardly benefit America's ambitions as a world leader."


Writing in the "International Herald Tribune," William Pfaff says several members of the political establishment in Washington seem to support the evolution of a European Union that is unified within -- and thus limited by -- a trans-Atlantic structure, which would render the EU "the political equivalent" of NATO.

A document issued by the Center for Strategic and International Studies and signed by two former secretaries of state (Madeleine Albright and Warren Christopher), as well as several other high-level figures from both U.S. political parties, called for U.S. officials to be present at European Council meetings when decisions are made and warned the EU against challenging U.S. military dominance.

"In short," says Pfaff, "it asked for the European Union to be subordinated to the United States."

A European reply was subsequently published in Italy's "Corriere della Sera" and France's "Le Monde," signed by several former European prime ministers or presidents. The letter expressed appreciation for U.S. concern over Europe's future, but emphasized that global problems must be dealt with in a multinational framework, such as that provided by the UN.

The European document condemned U.S. attempts to divide Europe and distinguished "between what mainstream opinion in Western and Central Europe wants, and what the United States wants."

This distinction "was useful," says Pfaff. "The trans-Atlantic political conflict has only begun," he says, predicting this divide "will dominate the decade to come."


French daily "Liberation's" Fabrice Rousselot writes from New York saying the American public is beginning to suspect that the United States might be in for a "long and deadly" occupation in Iraq. According to a new ABC/"Washington Post" survey, 44 percent suspect that the Iraq occupation will result in an "unacceptable" number of U.S. casualties.

Even if the U.S. public is not overly concerned with the failure to find President George W. Bush's much-touted "weapons of mass destruction," Rousselot says Americans are concerned about the U.S. casualties that are occurring almost daily in Iraq. To date, 57 GIs have been killed by either hostile fire or in accidents since Bush declared the end of major hostilities on 1 May -- 56 days ago. Iraqi resistance has been described by U.S. sources as minimal and sporadic, says Rousselot, although American military officials this week admitted they were not 100 percent sure to what extent the resistance is organized.

The dubious management of the postwar period has resulted in an "increasingly audible political dissatisfaction" emerging in Washington, says Rousselot. Several senators requested this week that Bush be honest in his assessment of how long U.S. troops will have to stay in the region and how much the engagement will cost. Major U.S. dailies such as "The New York Times" and even the right-leaning, often pro-Bush "Wall Street Journal" have lately reflected this growing concern and expressed their own doubts that the U.S. administration was sufficiently prepared for postwar engagement.


A commentary in the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" describes the aftermath of the U.S. victory in Iraq where today the systematic destruction of the infrastructure and political and economic frustration threaten the utter breakdown of the country.

"Iraq is disintegrating at a faster rate than the creation of a new order," says the commentary. The paper blames Washington "for planning for a short war, but not the long road to peace."

The lesson learned in the Balkans must be re-learned in Iraq, the paper says. The war in Iraq is still not over, and peace is a hard-won process in which the U.S. will need allies. The commentary says "Washington must recognize that it needs friends, which means it must be more modest and really willing to cooperate, rather than just make demands."

On the other hand, old and new allies must understand that a stable Iraq is also in their interest. If the U.S. gives up in Iraq, then Europe, too, will suffer from this defeat. NATO is now setting the tone for the near future and this is the moment when Germany should also consider joining in.

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