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Western Press Review: Blair's Testimony, Kosovo's Status, War And Peace In Chechnya

  • Khatya Chhor

Prague, 29 August 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Among the topics addressed by commentary and analysis in the press today are British Prime Minister Tony Blair's testimony at the "Hutton enquiry" yesterday, the future status of Kosovo, the limits of the Dayton peace accord in bringing democratic self-rule to Bosnia-Herzegovina, war and peace in the breakaway republic of Chechnya, and the ongoing U.S.-led nation-building effort in Iraq.

FINANCIAL TIMES:

An editorial in the London-based "Financial Times" says British Prime Minister Tony Blair gave a "characteristically assured performance" during testimony yesterday at the judicial enquiry investigating the death of weapons expert David Kelly and the ostensible exaggerations in a government report on Iraq's weapons capabilities. Kelly was found dead, an apparent suicide, near his home days after he was identified as a source used in a BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) report alleging the government overstated the threat posed by Iraqi weapons.

The "Financial Times" says if testimony from a BBC official, Chairman Gavyn Davies, yesterday is to be believed, it should have followed up its report with "a prompt correction of its language and made it clear that it was not accusing the government of lying."

However, it adds, the evidence given by Blair "also stretches the credibility of a reasonable person." All things considered, the paper says, "it was not the BBC's report that damaged [Blair's] standing with the British public and the international community. Rather, it was the failure to find the weapons of mass destruction in Iraq that he had insisted were a clear and present threat. [This] is the central problem Mr. Blair faces."

The British public has reason to feel that Blair and his government were not entirely honest in the run-up to war -- and it is now "unlikely to trust his judgment so readily in the future," the paper writes.

THE NEW YORK TIMES:

An editorial in "The New York Times" says British Prime Minister Tony Blair's testimony yesterday was "spirited but unconvincing. Despite all the protestations of innocence by Mr. Blair and his aides, it is clear that his government embellished the truth in its stark warnings of an imminent Iraqi threat."

Just as assertions by the U.S. administration "went beyond" the "hard intelligence" information available, the British government "brazenly overreached in its claims that Iraq could field biological and chemical weapons within 45 minutes of Saddam Hussein's giving the order." By claiming that his office had left most of the report's content in the hands of the British security establishment, Blair "claimed an implausibly superfluous role for a leader preparing to take his nation to war."

The paper says: "The widespread belief in Britain that the government was deliberately misleading about the Iraqi threat explains Mr. Blair's recent downward plunge in the polls. Most Britons now say they no longer trust him to tell the truth. Regaining their trust will not be easy."

NEUE ZUERCHER ZEITUNG:

A commentary in the "Neue Zuercher Zeitung" discusses the Serbian parliament's declaration yesterday that Kosovo is an indivisible part of the Serbian republic, despite the province's status as a UN-administered international protectorate. The Swiss daily says this announcement is somewhat divorced from reality. The situation in Kosovo is as unsettled as ever. A multiethnic Kosovo operating according to the Western ideal of having functional, mixed institutions remains an illusion. Not even the efforts of the UN administration will do much to change this.

Since Kosovo became a part of Serbia in 1912-13, one of the national groups -- mostly the Serbian minority -- has wielded sovereign power and suppressed the other groups. Today the Serbs and Albanians may be vocal about wanting democracy, but in fact they each seek to dominate the other.

The commentary says, "Belgrade is deluded in thinking the wheels of time can be reversed." The declaration proves that Belgrade is unwilling to give up Kosovo. But by taking this tough stand "it is binding its hands still further. The latitude for negotiations has been narrowed down. A compromise will become ever more difficult," the paper predicts.

There seems to be no indication that Belgrade has any direct influence on events in Kosovo. Essentially, Kosovo is independent and Belgrade cannot alter this fact. Sooner or later, says the "Neue Zuercher Zeitung," Belgrade will have to come to terms with this and make far-reaching concessions.

THE WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE:

In a contribution to "The Wall Street Journal Europe," Robert Hitchner of the Dayton Peace Accords Project discusses how to establish a working democracy in Bosnia-Herzegovina. While there has been much progress since 1995, he says, the country "is still politically unstable, economically weak and socially fragile."

The main problem, Hitchner says, is the inherent limits of the Dayton Agreement. Bosnia is foundering because no one is willing to admit that Dayton "fashioned a political system that makes the country virtually impossible to govern successfully without an international presence."

But the international community has been unwilling to face up to the reality that Dayton, which created a "deeply decentralized" system of government, "cannot carry Bosnia into the future indefinitely." Many Bosnian politicians are also opposed to changing Dayton because it will "force them to be more accountable to Bosnian [voters]. As a result, Dayton has become entrenched policy, compelling the international community to remain deeply engaged."

But now "it is time for the leaders of Bosnia and the international community to begin the process of moving beyond Dayton." A constitutional convention should be held in 2004 to replace Dayton "with a new constitution that establishes a truly democratic political system that meets the requirements of entrance into the European Union," Hitchner says. Within six months of its ratification, elections should be held.

He says, "A new constitution is the only political mechanism capable of providing a legitimate and appropriate exit for the international mission in Bosnia and, most importantly, giving the people of Bosnia the democratic government they deserve."

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG:

Stefan Ulrich in the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" discusses recent shifts in the U.S. attitude toward UN involvement in Iraq. The U.S. seems like it may be ready to concede a role for the international organization, and Ulrich says the Security Council should seriously consider the offer while also acknowledging the UN's limitations. The organization cannot lead a military campaign, he says, and it cannot rebuild a country. Resources must be pooled.

Ulrich, therefore, is strongly in favor of a UN mandate to rebuild Iraq, but also considers America's supreme command as essential. "Those who wish a multinational Iraq mission success should leave the supreme command to the U.S." On the other hand, Washington should take a more conciliatory stance on civilian issues since the U.S. administration has shown in past months that "it has been overtaxed in its efforts to build and democratize Iraq."

The question now is whether Washington is willing to concede that it has shortcomings. If it fails to admit its past mistakes, then Ulrich says America "is mighty, but not genuinely great."

LE MONDE:

An editorial in "Le Monde" today says the nation-building task that the United States has begun in Iraq is the same challenge being undertaken multilaterally in Afghanistan, Kosovo, and Bosnia-Herzegovina. The international community may consider under exactly which circumstances it wishes to intercede: What level of "monstrosity" must a regime reach? What degree of threat must it pose for civilian populations? Even if the intervention is imposed de facto and unilaterally as in Iraq, one can begin to see what conditions will be necessary for its success: the proper political environment and real foreign investment.

The political environment rests on the question of legitimacy, says the paper, and determines how those on the ground are received. International intervention always involves the temporary loss of sovereignty and, as an international organization, only the UN can grant legitimacy to such projects.

By relegating the UN to a strictly humanitarian role, by wanting to exercise exclusive authority over postwar Iraq, the United States has weakened its own position. "Le Monde" says Washington did this for purely ideological reasons, seeking to make clear that it does not consider the UN the sole source of international legitimacy. Nation building takes time, the paper says. And the multilateral commitment of the UN would affirm that there is a long-term perspective for Iraq.

JANE'S INTELLIGENCE REVIEW:

Writing in "Jane's Intelligence Review," Mark Galeotti of the Organised Russian and Eurasian Crime Research Unit at Britain's Keele University discusses recent moves toward a political solution in Chechnya.

According to Russian officials, the Kremlin may soon be willing to grant Chechnya wide-ranging autonomy, including control over its own central bank and its natural resources. Moscow is also looking to reduce its forces in the region, even going so far as to draw up a contingency plan for withdrawing all army troops.

Several factors are contributing to the pressure to find a political solution, Galeotti says. Ahead of December parliamentary elections and presidential elections next spring, Russian President Vladimir Putin seems to be increasingly anxious to find some sort of solution to the Chechen conflict -- and there is "no military victory in sight."

The rebels are also keeping up the pressure with regular attacks, even while divisions among the separatists and their tactics are exacerbated. This year "has seen an increasingly nuanced portrait" of the rebellion being painted by the Kremlin, as it acknowledges that not all Chechen fighters are terrorists or extremists.

And yet Putin "is still giving mixed signals," Galeotti says. Even as the Kremlin seems more willing to compromise, it is refusing to release funds designated for reconstruction projects in the breakaway republic. Galeotti says, "This is symbolic of a Kremlin which is still not sure whether it wants to do things differently or just wants to seem to be doing so."

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

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