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Western Press Review: Bush In London, Poland Plays EU 'Hardball,' And Georgia's Political 'Crossroads'

  • Khatya Chhor

Prague, 20 November 2003 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. President George W. Bush's state visit to Britain continues to spur commentary on both sides of the Atlantic. An unprecedented security operation involving 14,000 police officers is under way throughout London. A massive organized protest against the Iraq war and Bush administration policy is scheduled for later today.

Poland's bid to maintain its influence in the European Union, the political "crossroads" in Georgia, and Russian-U.S. relations are also discussed.


The British "Guardian" discusses the massive protest scheduled for later today in London, which is expected to bring out tens of thousands of demonstrators against the Iraq war and the policies of U.S. President George W. Bush. The paper says what matters most about the demonstration "is that it should take place, that it should be large and that it should be peaceful."

A separate piece in the British daily says Bush "piled on the charm yesterday" during his speech in London. He stressed America and Britain's shared history, values, and beliefs, as well as the importance of the trans-Atlantic relationship and the common aim of pursuing freedom and democracy around the world.

Bush "sees a world in which the forces of liberty, democracy, free speech and free markets, underpinned by shared moral imperatives, are steadily advancing. He sees a choice, for every nation and every people, between the sort of values he espouses and the old ways of tyranny, oppression and social and economic failure."

But Bush's "methods remain problematic," the paper says. "[His] government's actions since September 11 have directly and indirectly increased levels of aggression and counter-aggression on all sides, while sometimes ignoring nonviolent alternatives."


An editorial in the "Financial Times" says Poland is now playing hardball as it seeks to maintain its level of influence in the European Union, despite changes to the distribution of voting rights proposed by a draft constitution. Under the Nice Treaty of 2000, Poland and Spain were granted a measure of equality with larger, more populous EU members -- both were given 27 votes compared with the 29 granted to EU powerhouses Germany, France, Britain, and Italy.

But the "FT" says the constitution's proposed "double majority" plan is "more rational." The new prescription would allow decisions to be made by a majority of member countries provided they represent at least 60 percent of the EU populace.

Polish Foreign Minister Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz has expressed concern that this formula would lead to a "unipolar Union" dominated by France and Germany. "But Warsaw should think again," says the "Financial Times." The blueprint suggested by the Nice treaty "is a recipe for gridlock." The new plan is an improvement on "arbitrarily decided voting rights -- and could give Poland more influence" in the long run.

The paper says the "least bad" solution would be to adopt the constitution's guidelines for voting rights, but allow the smaller states to keep seats in the European Parliament that the Nice Treaty would revoke.


In "The New York Times," columnist Thomas Friedman writes from London on the widespread anti-Bush sentiment that is evident throughout the British capital. London Mayor Ken Livingstone has even denounced the U.S. president as "the greatest threat to life on this planet that we've most probably ever seen."

Friedman muses that some of Bush's critics will never be won over because they not only resent him and his policies, "they hate America above all else." Friedman says, "That may explain why you don't see any protesters [in London] carrying signs saying, 'Death to [Osama] bin Laden,' 'Saddam: How many Iraqis did you kill today?' or 'Mr. Bush: Thanks for believing in Arab democracy.' "

But he goes on to say the Bush administration must make more concessions to its allies in Europe and the Middle East. As for relations with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Bush's staunchest ally in Iraq needs some political support for maintaining his deeply unpopular pro-war stance. Blair needs the U.S. to "drop its outrageous steel tariffs, to provide a workable alternative to Kyoto, to hand over the nine U.K. citizens held in Guantanamo Bay [and] to let London play around with the EU on a European defense [force]. But so far, he appears to be getting nothing."

America needs allied help in rebuilding Iraq, to provide legitimacy and make the project sustainable. But right now, the United States is experiencing "enormous global animosity." America can't let this hinder its aims, but nor can it ignore global opinion.


A "Financial Times" editorial says Bush's speech in London yesterday offered a glimpse into how he proposes "to lay the groundwork for U.S.-European cooperation to repair the damage done recently to trans-Atlantic relations and to mount a joint approach to the monumental challenges arising out of the Middle East."

The paper says, "Sadly, however, the glimpse is likely to prove an illusion, as Mr. Bush leaves behind the pomp of his state visit and plunges into his re-election campaign."

Bush has built his vision of a peaceful, secure, and free world on "three pillars," the paper says. First is the "willingness to use force against tyranny as a last resort." The American president defended the invasion of Iraq and the toppling of Saddam Hussein. He also "chose not to concede any U.S. errors in coping with the war's aftermath."

Bush's second pillar was his emphasis on the need "for credible and vigorous international organizations." And this "needed saying from a president who has often appeared to regard the UN as a separate and hostile power."

The third pillar of Bush's speech was the goal of spreading democracy around the world, and the paper says his remarks on the Middle East were "most promising." His even-handed language on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is exactly what "Blair sought from Washington in return for U.K. participation in the Iraq war."

Ultimately, however, Bush's thoughts in the coming year "will be more on his re-election than anything else."


A commentary in the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" reacts to the keynote speech by U.S. President George W. Bush yesterday on the first day of his state visit to the U.K.

The paper says for those who have hard-and-fast opinions about Bush, "the speech will not have made any impression." After all, the legitimate political earthquakes of the Iraq conflict have not yet subsided. The American president's style and his very personality have had a polarizing influence around the globe. Like it or not, America and Europe have been torn apart and Bush is partly responsible for this mutual alienation.

Nevertheless, the commentary continues, what Bush had to say yesterday is worth considering. It was striking to note the emphasis he placed on the issue of global democracy. "We have to go ways back to recall a similar revolutionary idealism," says the "FAZ."

The commentary says America's European allies will, of course, welcome Bush's avowed democratic intentions. Yet they might well ask how far these lofty proclamations on trans-Atlantic partnership will go toward formulating a common U.S.-EU policy on Iran or coming to an agreement on trade. The paper questions whether Bush's renewed proclamations of trans-Atlantic friendship will last only until the next conflict erupts over steel imports.


In a contribution to "The Washington Post," Stephen Sestanovich of the Council on Foreign Relations discusses the U.S. administration's dealings with the Kremlin under Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Ahead of 7 December parliamentary elections, Putin is trying to "finish off" what Sestanovich calls "Russia's only genuinely democratic and reformist parties, the Union of Right Forces and Yabloko." He says even the "possibility of a phony vote count cannot be excluded." But whether this happens may depend "on how Putin reads foreign reaction" to the controversial arrest of Yukos oil chief Mikhail Khodorkovskii, Sestanovich says.

Putin should not expect to avoid criticism of his commitment to democratic methods in light of the Yukos affair. The Russian president "doesn't like criticism, but because international legitimacy matters to him, he doesn't ignore it."

U.S. President George W. Bush "is rightly proud of the Russian-American relationship that he and Putin have created. The two of them have shown that cooperation between Moscow and Washington serves both sides' national interests," in part "by ignoring disagreements over peripheral issues, focusing instead on major strategic objectives." But Bush "seems to believe that Russian domestic politics don't affect Russian-American relations."

The Bush administration "has clearly concluded that the only way to get results with Russia is to keep top-tier foreign policy objectives separate from lesser issues. It wants to save its chits with Putin to win his help on Iraq, Iran and North Korea." But Sestanovich says if Bush "feels he can no longer speak openly about negative trends in Russia, then a basic ingredient of a healthy and balanced Russian-American relationship has already been lost."


Unscrupulousness and villainy are on the way to becoming a real menace for the Caucasus region, says Jacques Amalric in France's "Liberation." And yet the United States and Europe prefer to ignore this trend -- sometimes out of self-interest, at other times out of indifference. But the West "is at risk of having to feign surprise if, tomorrow, a dictatorship arises" in one Caucasus country or civil war breaks out in another.

Georgia is currently in the most hopeless situation, says Amalric. "A dozen years after regaining independence, Georgia is a mutilated, amputated state, on the brink of an explosion." Amalric says the primary fault lies with Russia, which has encouraged separatist movements in the Georgian provinces of Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and Adzharia.

President Eduard Shevardnadze -- once an architect of Soviet perestroika -- has, in more than a decade of Georgian independence, tolerated massive corruption, including that on behalf of his family; wasted a billion dollars in U.S. aid; presided over a drop in the average monthly salary to 22 euros ($26); and made it necessary to live at the mercy of periodic power cuts.

Even worse, says Amalric, encouraged by the lack of Western reaction, Shevardnadze "shamelessly forged" Georgia's 2 November general election. Opposition parties are now calling for the resignation of the weakened 78-year-old leader.

It remains to be seen how Georgia will escape this impasse, Amalric says. For now, the country remains on a downward spiral, without a legitimate government and increasingly destabilized.


Ewald Stein in the German business paper "Handelsblatt" discusses Iran's alleged nuclear weapons program as diplomats are in session today in Vienna in an effort to mend a growing rift between the United States and key European allies over how hard a line to take with Tehran.

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) General Director Mohammed ElBaradei "does not want and can-not decisively answer the question of Iran's nuclear weapon ambitions," which angers the U.S. administration. Washington itself has no doubt about Iran's ambitions and includes Iran in its "axis of evil."

Iran is an oil-rich country, Stein observes. Moreover, a look at the map shows that it shares a shoreline with the oil-rich Caspian Sea. The U.S. has already established its military presence in the Caspian region in Kazakhstan, as well as Uzbekistan, and is now in Afghanistan and Pakistan. So the question is whether "Iran will remain the blank space" on the new U.S. map of the region.

But this is just speculation, Stein hastily points out. America's intentions will only become apparent after the presidential elections next year.

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