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Western Press Review: Death Of British Defense Adviser Kelly, Chechnya, And The Middle East

  • Khatya Chhor

Prague, 21 July 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Western media coverage today is largely dominated by a discussion of the apparent suicide of British Defense Ministry adviser David Kelly, whose conversation with a British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) reporter led to allegations that Britain's government exaggerated the threat posed by the Iraqi regime.

We also take a look at the continuing conflict in Chechnya, a proposed solution to some contentious issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the trans-Atlantic alliance in the shadow of the second Iraq war.


An editorial in Britain's "The Times" says David Kelly's tragedy "was to be caught between two of Britain's most powerful institutions," the prime ministership and the BBC, "whose egocentric desire for vindication has distorted their sense of proportion, of honor and of integrity. Some tough questions must now be asked about how institutional Britain could have handled more honorably a situation that went so terribly wrong."

The paper says the BBC's "admission that Dr. Kelly was its principal source raises very serious questions" about its initial report claiming the government had exaggerated claims about Iraq's weapons. The government "also has hard questions to answer. How and why was Dr. Kelly's name made public in the first place?" the paper asks.

"The Times" says Kelly "had no doubt that Saddam Hussein had the intent and expertise to develop weapons of mass destruction. His concern was whether the nature of this program was correctly represented."

Kelly was "unusually open for a government adviser. The institutions which have so mishandled the human dimension of this story must now be as willing as he was to volunteer the truth."

A number of German newspapers comment today on the political fallout in Britain from the death of arms expert Kelly. The BBC has said that Kelly was the main source cited in reports alleging that the government of Prime Minister Tony Blair exaggerated military intelligence to make the case for the Iraq war.


A commentary in the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" says the issue at stake is not so much whether Blair's communications director, Alastair Campbell, tried to make the Iraq weapons dossier "sexier," whether the British secret service disregarded serious investigations, or whether Britain had other motives than the alleged weapons of mass destruction for wanting war with Iraq.

"The issue at stake," says the paper, "is to what degree a government wanting to go to war may proceed in winning the nation on its side and to what extent a nation has to tolerate being forced into a war. These are the very issues the British Defense Ministry wanted to avoid when it tried to use David Kelly as a smokescreen."


Karl Grobe, writing in the "Frankfurter Rundschau," sees the British government as maintaining "unsustainable" claims. The government looked for traitors instead of setting the record straight. Grobe thinks Blair should resign before causing Britain even more damage.


Discussing the same topic in the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung," an editorial says Blair has lost several advisers in past years because they were unscrupulous. Now he will be pressed on charges regarding whether this latest lapse is an isolated case or simply part of the "Blair system."

It now seems the prime minister, who took a high moral tone on the Iraq issue, "has put himself in the pillory."


Thomas Kielinger, writing in "Die Welt," says Blair has lost considerable authority and credibility during his six years in office. The tragic death of Kelly indicates once more that the British prime minister failed to substantiate his reasons for going to war with Iraq.

There have been far too many questions surrounding the weapons of mass destruction. "Now this policy has tragically led to the first political victim. It will not be the last," Kielinger concludes.


An analytical article in "Jane's Terrorism and Security Monitor" by S. Gorka says Russian President Vladimir Putin's insistence that no concessions can be made to Chechen separatists appears to doom the breakaway republic to more bloody regional instability.

The Chechens, says Gorka, are truly "tempered in the vicissitudes of battles...[resistance] to outside influence and control has been a long way of life." For 10 years Russia has been unable "to vanquish its separatist enemy," while a generation has grown up in the Caucasus state knowing nothing but conflict.

After the 11 September 2001 attacks in the United States, Gorka says, Putin "rapidly attempted to paint connections between Al-Qaeda and the Chechen separatists" and launched renewed offensives in the region -- this time, "with little or no official outcry from the West."

Yet in a "self-fulfilling and self-defeating act," Moscow has repeatedly rejected the idea of talks with Chechnya's elected leader Aslan Maskhadov. By marginalizing Maskhadov, the Kremlin has bolstered the influence of rebel leaders and warlords who do not mind continuing a "chaotic state of affairs that can be exploited to their own profit."

Gorka says recent polls show for the first time that more than 60 percent of the Russian population is in favor of negotiating a settlement with the breakaway republic. When even "recognized hard-liners" are calling for talks with the rebels, says Gorka, "a sea change cannot be denied."


A contribution to the "International Herald Tribune" today proposes a solution to two of the most contentious issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict -- the continued expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Gaza, and the right of return for Palestinian refugees.

Richard Murphy of the Council on Foreign Relations and David Mack of the Middle East Institute say, "There is an opportunity to resolve both through a judicious combination of money and diplomacy." The U.S. should pledge "to resettle the 200,000 Israeli settlers now living in the West Bank and Gaza to areas inside Israel proper," say the authors.

A recent poll by Palestinian researcher Khalil Shikaki, who Murphy and Mack call "one of the region's most respected analysts," found that while a "sweeping majority" of Palestinian refugees "insist that Israel must recognize the right of return in principle, most refugees are prepared to accept creative solutions to their demand." A majority of Palestinian refugees now "agree that realizing their 'right of return' could include compensation and returning to the state of Palestine when that is established, or settling where they live today, or accepting resettlement outside the region."

As for Israeli settlers, polling has shown "that 80 percent of the settlers are 'economic settlers' who moved into the West Bank and Gaza after 1967 to enjoy better and highly subsidized housing." The authors surmise that, if "fairly compensated with comparable housing, they could be brought to resettle" elsewhere.


Writing in the "International Herald Tribune," columnist William Pfaff says the trans-Atlantic alliance may be under "terminal strain." NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson has said NATO will not provide any further help in Iraq. Pfaff says NATO "might survive the present crisis, but only as a structure providing U.S. bases in ex-communist Europe. The United States is going in one direction, and NATO's European Union members in another, a rival direction."

This is a "reluctant choice" on the European side, but the United States "is now seen in Europe as a threat to Europe's independence. The American side does not understand this."

Pfaff says Europeans "simply no longer agree with the United States. They don't agree about the terrorist threat. They don't think Osama bin Laden is a global menace. They don't take Washington's view of rogue states. They don't agree about pre-emptive war, clash of civilizations, the demonization of Islam, or Pentagon domination of U.S. foreign policy."

The administration of U.S. President George W. Bush has turned erstwhile allies into competing anti-American powers. As the trans-Atlantic alliance crumbles, Europe has renewed focus on its own common security and foreign policy.

America has "lost the Europeans' confidence," Pfaff says. "Unless the United States can recapture it, the alliance is finished."


Writing in the "Financial Times," former U.S. Ambassador to NATO Robert Hunter, now of the Rand Corporation, says NATO should assume the military burden in Iraq while a partnership between the U.S. and the European Union should take over the nonmilitary responsibilities.

For the U.S. to administer postwar Iraq alone is "neither desirable nor necessary," says Hunter. "Americans want to know that their efforts in Iraq and beyond have broad international support."

Whatever Europeans may believe regarding the motives for the war, "they cannot escape the consequences -- and they know it. The Middle East is physically closer to Europe than to the U.S. Europe depends as much on Gulf oil as does the U.S. Middle East-based terrorism is unlikely to pass Europe by. The rise in Muslim populations in Europe makes Europeans sensitive to the need to promote social stability throughout the greater Middle East."

NATO member nations "have already demonstrated their capacity for peacekeeping, most recently in Bosnia, Kosovo, Albania, Macedonia, and Afghanistan," Hunter writes. "Indeed, Europeans have decades more experience than the U.S. in the complex and arduous task."

Washington must accept "that asking others to help means including them in decision-making. Others will not write checks simply to support a Washington plan," says Hunter. "The U.S. should not fear that sharing decisions will weaken it."

Ultimately, he says, it is "likely to do the opposite."


Stefan Ulrich in the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" looks at the role of the United Nations in considering the current situation in Iraq, which is proving far more complicated than the U.S. anticipated when it decided to go it alone to ensure it would have the most control in the postwar era.

This calculation, says Ulrich, "was based on a false prognosis." Now that the U.S. finds itself in a predicament, "Washington is rediscovering the UN." The commentary says the UN has every right to feel offended at being initially marginalized. Nevertheless, "it would be wrong to punish Iraq for America's faults." After all, the world still seeks a stable Middle East, and the UN was founded for the purpose of maintaining peace. Ulrich says, "Should the UN fail now, it would betray itself."

It is right that the UN should be forthcoming in aiding the U.S. NATO may assist, but it will find it far more difficult to agree to other conditions, for a new UN resolution cannot "lend legitimacy to the U.S. invasion of Iraq." UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan demands a clear timetable for the Iraqis to regain sovereignty, and he insists on more than an advisory role for the UN, which he believes should be responsible for the nation-building process.

In other words, instead of Washington, the UN should be responsible for the transition to a democratic state, the establishment of free media, organizing elections, and guaranteeing justice for crimes committed during the Saddam Hussein regime.

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