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Western Press Review: Analyzing Iran's Nuclear Ambitions And Avoiding The 'Oil Curse' In Iraq

  • Khatya Chhor

Prague, 16 September 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Among the topics discussed by major media outlets today are the possible reasons behind Iran's suspected nuclear ambitions, the local effects of the Baku-Ceyhan oil pipeline, how to avoid the "oil curse" in Iraq, and the collapse of World Trade Organization (WTO) talks in Cancun, Mexico.


Britain's "The Guardian" discusses why Iran may feel that procuring nuclear weapons is necessary to ensure its national security.

Tehran's situation "appears increasingly vulnerable," says the paper. "Look one way and there stands a hostile, nuclear-armed Israel; look another, and there stands nuclear-armed Sunni Muslim Pakistan. Almost all around -- in Iraq, in Afghanistan and in its expanding Gulf, Central Asian and Black Sea bases -- stands the awesome military might of America. Barely a week goes by without U.S. officials making threatening noises towards Iran, decrying its alleged support of international terrorism, encouraging internal civil insurrection, or reminding it that [the] U.S. deems it to be a 'rogue state.'"

The administration of U.S. President George W. Bush pursues tough-talking, "provocative" policies that are "deeply hypocritical in terms of its own nuclear arms and its neglected NPT [Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty] disarmament obligations."

This approach makes proliferation "more, not less likely, not only in Iran but also in states like North Korea."

The paper asks, given Washington's overthrow of Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq, "what confidence can Iran have that any level of UN inspection will satisfy the U.S.? Or that Washington will ever soften its overtly hostile stance? Faced by this escalating U.S. pressure, it would be regrettable but quite understandable if Iran were to decide that nuclear bombs were essential to protect itself."

"The Guardian" says the U.S. administration's conduct "is turning worrying possibilities into dangerously self-fulfilling prophecies."


"The Christian Science Monitor" carries a contribution by Bruce Everett, a former oil company representative in the Mideast and now of Tufts University, in which he discusses the so-called "oil curse."

Petroleum development in a nation often leads not to prosperity and modernization but to conflict and corruption, he says. "In the worst cases, like Nigeria, Angola, Burma and the Sudan, oil cash seems only to fuel civil wars and human rights abuses."

The fundamental problem is mismanagement of the cash and resources. Government control over the national economy "allows politicians to trade economic advantages for political loyalty...[and] concentrating massive cash flows in the hands of politicians creates the perfect vehicle for theft and corruption."

But most importantly, he says, "no government, however honest and well-meaning, has a clue how to manage an economy. In the West, we don't rely on government to allocate capital. Entrepreneurs who know what the economy needs and can judge risks and benefits make investment decisions in a free market."

To avoid some of these problems in Iraq, Everett suggests putting oil revenues "directly into the hands of the citizenry." Creating a national oil company in which shares are held by Iraqi citizens is too indirect and inefficient, he says. Instead, each of Iraq's 25 million citizens should receive $600 to $700 per year; a family of five would receive $3,000 to $3,500. Beyond supporting the basic needs of Iraqi citizens, "much of this cash would be invested in small businesses, services, agriculture, and the other ingredients of a vibrant economy -- without political strings."


Writing in "The Moscow Times," Baku-based journalist Chloe Arnold discusses how the construction of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline is affecting local lives in the region. The pipeline is part of a developing east-west energy corridor designed to bring oil and gas from the Caspian Sea to European and American markets.

Arnold writes: "From Baku in Azerbaijan to Ceyhan in Turkey, local residents have been complaining about the pipeline. They say they haven't been given enough compensation for having their land plowed up and for the noise and dust clouds the heavy machinery makes from dawn till dusk."

Ironically, the pipeline passes through several villages that have access to neither electricity nor gas.

Environmental groups have also criticized the project for damaging regional ecology, "particularly in Georgia, where the pipeline will skirt the Borzhomi Valley, home to a mineral water reserve that is also the country's most lucrative export."

International organizations such as the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) "have held a series of public meetings for local groups to air their grievances." But aside from being "a wonderful PR job," Arnold says such meetings merely involve groups "of bankers from London and New York [who make] concerned faces at all the complaints" outlined by the locals.

But Arnold remarks, "I suspect the decision to invest up to $600 million in the project was made long ago."


In evaluating the outcome of the just concluded World Trade Organization (WTO) summit in Cancun, Mexico, Konrad Mrusek of the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" says that as a negotiating forum for trade liberalization, the WTO has, for the present, ceased to serve its purpose. The meeting ended without an agreement on a new global trade pact.

"America, and to a lesser extent the [European Union], will probably continue to conclude regional trade agreements with a 'coalition of the willing,'" he says. But such regional trade policies are only "the second-best solution."

Significantly, says Mrusek, the Cancun conference proved that America and the EU are no longer able to determine the tone of negotiations as major trading powers. The WTO, at one time merely a club for rich powers that automatically set the agenda, has turned into a real, multivoiced organization. Since China joined two years ago, the balance of power has shifted at the WTO. China found it useful to attack the agricultural subsidies enjoyed by the rich countries in winning over allies for its own export plans.

Lastly, says Mrusek, America and the EU countries found themselves on the defensive, attacked both by Third World nations and the domestic supporters of those Third World interests within their own countries. Western nongovernmental organizations and other advocates of the poor considered the WTO failure a victory.

But Mrusek says since the West's trade barriers for agricultural goods persist and the WTO has been severely wounded, "the outcome of the conference is actually a defeat of the poor."


"Le Monde's" lead editorial today says that despite the "failure" of the WTO meeting in Cancun, "there is reason to be delighted [with] the growing ability of southern countries to organize themselves and represent their own interests."

Smaller, less-developed countries (LDCs) partnered with "intermediate" countries like Brazil to create the "G-21" group of nations. "Le Monde" says their rising influence has shown that the WTO, far from only serving the interests of the West, is becoming a place of real negotiation on the regulation of world trade. While the interests of LDCs and the "intermediates" also diverge at some point, the paper says that, for now, their alliance against the world giants is real.

Nevertheless, the WTO's failure is a new threat to multilateralism, the French daily says. Undoubtedly, the conference was badly planned. But the new southern union should quickly learn to compromise, or else risk the WTO being transformed into a purely political forum without credibility.

If the WTO becomes marginalized like the United Nations has been at times, the United States will circumvent it. The administration of U.S. President George W. Bush prefers forming bilateral alliances with its neighbors anyway. And nobody would gain from that, particularly not the countries of the south.


Karl Grobe in the "Frankfurter Rundschau" comments on the war in Chechnya in light of yesterday's bomb attack. A truck filled with explosives blew up outside a government security building in Ingushetia, killing three people.

The Chechen armed resistance has taken on various forms, says Grobe. There are warlords in the mountains, suicide bombings, attacks on Russian installations. The guerrilla fighting is actually a continuation of Chechnya's resistance to the second Russian invasion. Other acts of violence are an expression of warlords' desperation pursuing their own regional interests.

Nevertheless, there is a connection, he says, for the war has gone out of control for both Russian President Vladimir Putin and for the Chechen leader Aslan Maskhadov. The short campaign Putin declared four years ago has long turned into what Grobe calls "an extermination war." Putin himself possibly ruined his last chance for a political settlement following the hostage taking in a Moscow theater last October, when he declared Maskhadov a "nonpolitician."

Moscow has by now lost all credibility by manipulating the recent referendum on the constitution and has now acted in an equally calculating manner ahead of presidential elections in Chechnya in October.

Grobe says, "Putin wants his stooges, but he will get terror in the bargain."


Writing in "The Washington Post," "Newsweek" editor and columnist Fareed Zakaria says everyone now seems to be in agreement that the U.S.-led occupation of Iraq should transfer power as soon as possible to the Iraqi Governing Council.

But Zakaria warns that a quick transfer of power would be "impractical, unwise and dangerous." He points out that the United Nations assisted in the occupation of Bosnia, "where it took seven years to transfer power to the locals." Kosovo remains a UN protectorate, "which has gone smoothly for the past four years, with no prospect of ending anytime soon." And East Timor was managed for two years before power was handed over to local authorities.

Zakaria says the Iraqi Governing Council "is a vital part of the new Iraq. But there is simply no way it could become the government right now. It is a group of 25 disparate people, chosen to fulfill ethnic, religious and other quotas, that has never worked together. [You] cannot have Iraq run by 25 coequal chiefs, especially during this crucial period of reform and restructuring."

An immediate transfer of power, he says, would hamper "and perhaps even reverse" the process of reforming the political culture in Iraq. Instead, the ratification of a constitution and elections within the next few years should take place alongside the restructuring of the courts, police, and army.

"Popular sovereignty is a great thing," he says, "but a constitutional process is greater still."

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