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Western Press Review: The Ambiguities Of 'Freedom,' Baku's Presidential Power Shift, And Iranian-North Korean Cooperation

  • Khatya Chhor

Prague, 8 August 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Discussion in some of the major dailies today centers on Iranian-North Korean cooperation on weapons programs, ambiguities of U.S. rhetoric on "freedom," Russian support for the Azerbaijani president's controversial attempts to shift power to his son, yesterday's car-bomb attack on the Jordanian Embassy in Baghdad, and the vital yet tenuous relationship between Washington and the House of Saud.


In a contribution to Britain's "Financial Times," Anatol Lieven of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace discusses the ambiguities of the oft-heard American rhetoric on "freedom."

Statements on promoting and preserving "liberty" or "freedom" are the cornerstone of American political discourse, says Lieven. But such statements assume that there is "a simple, eternal, [and] universally accepted version of 'freedom.'" Ideas of freedom differ and always have, he says. "Far from being straightforward and self-evident, the meaning of freedom has always been and remains ambiguous and contested," even within America.

Lieven explains that some Americans believe in a libertarian vision of "absolute freedom from government control or inspection" in most areas of life, which includes what he calls a "radical" version of laissez-faire economics.

Others emphasize "the duty to exercise freedom in accordance with certain fundamental moral laws." Lieven says the "authoritarian rigidity with which American conservatives demand adherence to moral laws, and indeed seek to extend them beyond America's frontiers, is far in excess of anything to be found [in] Europe today -- except for fundamentalist Muslim circles." The American conservative view also clashes "radically" with the version of freedom advocated by progressive liberals in the U.S.

Lieven goes on to say that "time and again," people from the Americas to the Balkans to Afghanistan "have been willing to sacrifice political freedom [for] real or perceived greater order and safety." People are also often willing "to forego personal freedom in the cause of what they regard as freedom from outside domination for their ethnic group or nation."


In a news analysis published in both "The New York Times" and the "International Herald Tribune" today, Michael Gordon says the car bomb that exploded at the Jordanian Embassy in Baghdad yesterday indicated that U.S. forces in Iraq are now facing "a new and unpredictable threat."

Occupation forces have repeatedly come under fire from small-arms munitions and "homemade" explosive devices. "But this attack was different," says Gordon. Yesterday's blast did not target the military occupation but a so-called "soft target." "The goal was not to alter the military equation but to produce a large number of civilian casualties." Gordon says even as U.S. forces seek to shift more control to Iraqi security forces, a new threat is emerging "that the Iraqis do not seem well prepared to handle."

Gordon says in recent weeks it has become clear that not only Saddam Hussein supporters are resisting the U.S.-led occupation, but increasing numbers of foreign fighters are slipping into Iraq to pursue jihad against America. He says this indicates that occupation forces and the new Iraqi government "will probably face some form of organized opposition" even if Saddam Hussein is captured or killed.

U.S. military sources contend that militants have slipped into Iraq through Syria from Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and other nations. Jordanian authorities suspect Iranian and Shi'a extremist elements of also setting up operations in Iraq.


There are "disturbing new accounts of heightened military cooperation between Iran and North Korea," says an editorial in "The Washington Times." The paper cites a "Los Angeles Times" report that North Korean scientists are helping Iran test a nuclear warhead and bolster its ballistic-missile projects. A story this week (6 August) in Japan's "Sankei" newspaper further claimed that Pyongyang and Tehran are to conclude a mid-October agreement aimed at jointly developing nuclear warheads.

"The Washington Times" says if these and similar reports turn out to be true, they would merely be the latest in a series of indications that Iran and North Korea, "the two surviving members of the 'axis of evil,'" are "collaborating in the production of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles." Pyongyang, "in desperate need of money, has sold missile technology to Tehran" throughout the past decade. It then reinvests this money into new weapons technologies. Iran, for its part, may now be just two years away from a nuclear weapon.

The paper goes on to remark that the Japanese government named North Korea its top security concern in an annual defense report this week (5 August). The editorial welcomes Japan's new emphasis on the threat from Pyongyang and its reinvigorated support for research on antimissile defenses. Washington, the paper says, should encourage Tokyo "to play a larger role" in the security of the Pacific Rim.


Peter Muench in the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" examines the underlying motives for yesterday's attack on the Jordanian Embassy in Baghdad. A truck bomb exploded outside the building, killing at least 11 people and wounding 65 others.

Muench says yesterday's attack defies the pattern of previous attacks, yet there are numerous possible explanations for it. Jordan acted in a "double role" in the Iraqi affair and hence has made friends and enemies. "Amman condemned the U.S. war against Iraq both in the streets and in its political platform." But on the other hand, the royal Hashamite house has taken great pains not to sever ties with Washington. Jordan, which is very much dependent on U.S. financial support, allowed U.S. troops to cross its borders with Iraq and ensure that rockets would not be launched at Israel. "This was an invisible but very important front in this war," says Muench.

So the former power base in Iraq now has plenty of reason to vent anger on its neighbor, Muench says. But Amman and Baghdad enjoyed fruitful economic relations during the many years of UN sanctions. Amman profited from cheap oil by finding loopholes in the oil-for-food program and, in return, smuggled goods unhindered to Baghdad. This symbiotic relationship has been maintained, it seems, as last week Jordan granted asylum to Saddam Hussein's daughters, Raghad and Rana, and their children.

"Therefore motives for the attack are copious," Muench says. Yesterday's damage, however, once again shows how the U.S. has failed to get a firm grip on Iraq."


A contribution in the regional daily "Eurasia View" by CIS affairs analyst Igor Torbakov looks at how Russia is reacting to indications this week that political maneuverings by Azerbaijan's ailing President Heidar Aliyev will see his son installed as president, should the elder Aliyev become incapacitated or die.

Torbakov says the Kremlin seems to think the eventual ascension of Ilham Aliyev to the presidency offers "the best chances of maintaining political stability in the resource-rich nation." The younger Aliyev is widely believed to lack the political acumen of his father. But Torbakov says some Russian analysts believe many former Soviet states are not ready for a bona fide multiparty political system, and that "some form of authoritarian government is the only way to preserve and promote stability."

Others suggest Azerbaijan's political transition may promote U.S.-Russian cooperation in the region, as joint efforts "provide the best chance of realizing what both Moscow and Washington want in the Caspian Basin: the steady development and export of energy resources."

As far as official policy goes, however, the administration of Russian President Vladimir Putin seems "eager to continue the existing relationship forged in recent years with [President] Heidar Aliyev." Torbakov says Moscow political analysts "readily admit that political continuity in Azerbaijan will depend in large part on Ilham Aliyev's leadership abilities." They see him "more as a figurehead for a collective leadership that shares the desire to keep pursuing Heydar Aliyev's policies."


"The Wall Street Journal Europe" in an editorial says since World War II, "America's need for Saudi oil and the Saudis' need for American protection created a happy marriage of convenience." But recent developments suggest that "too many inside the U.S. and Saudi governments have not yet grasped that this old model was forever buried" by the attacks of 11 September 2001.

The paper says subsequent investigations have revealed Riyadh's attempts to find a balance between "an America it knows it needs" and an extreme domestic Wahhabi Islam faction that Riyadh "[now] seems to realize it can't buy off."

A recent hearing at the U.S. Senate Government Affairs Committee highlighted "the two large public questions at issue: Whether the Saudis are doing all they should to crack down on terrorists [and] whether our own government has been too inclined to look the other way when they don't."

U.S.-Saudi diplomacy can no longer be taken care of behind closed doors, the editorial says. The added threat of terrorism has made the relationship an issue that deeply involves the American public. "The White House is simply not going to be able to get away with the same old secrecy."

The paper says it is true that any destabilization of the Saudi regime could result in another, more anti-American one taking its place. But it is now clear that a divided Saudi royal family will not be able to confront its terrorist elements without "constant U.S. pressure."

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