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Western Press Review: Debate Over Iraq's Rebuilding Contracts And The EU Constitutional Convention

  • Khatya Chhor

Prague, 12 December 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Among the issues discussed in some of the major dailies today are Washington's controversial decision to exclude nations that opposed the war in Iraq from bidding for major contracts in its rebuilding; the EU constitutional convention beginning today in Brussels; and preventing the proliferation of nuclear weapons technology in Iran and elsewhere.

THE WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE:

An editorial in "The Wall Street Journal Europe" today looks at the controversial decision by the U.S. administration to exclude companies from nations that opposed the war in Iraq from bidding for major contracts in its reconstruction. The U.S. Defense Department this week released a list of 63 countries able to bid for the expected $18.6 billion in rebuilding contracts. Russia, Germany, and France -- vocal opponents of the war in Iraq -- were notably excluded.

The editorial says Washington's decision was, in principle, "right on target." It writes, "The U.S. and its allies have spent blood and treasure to liberate Iraq and will spend a lot more to put Iraq back on its feet economically and politically." The list of countries eligible for contracts "reflects not so much a punishment" for nations who did not toe Washington's line, but rather "recognition of those that -- some at great political risk -- made the sacrifice" and sent troops either during or following the ouster of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

Germany and France -- two of the most vocal critics of the war -- "not only opposed the war but actually tried to obstruct the waging of it. They did not pledge any money at the donors' conference in Madrid this fall. And they, along with Russia, have not sent any troops to postwar Iraq." Now, "these countries, which took what they implied was the high moral ground against the war, are now complaining that they cannot make private profit from its aftermath." And the paper says this is "not a pretty sight."

THE WASHINGTON POST:

"The Washington Post" in an editorial also discusses the White House's decision to exclude particular nations from bidding for rebuilding contracts in Iraq. It says, "Yes, of course [U.S. President George W.] Bush's latest initiative is arrogant and self-defeating." In fact, a "spiteful unilateralism has characterized the administration's handling of postwar Iraq all along." And this posture is largely responsible for why the United States "must now face daunting military and political challenges nearly on its own."

But what is most remarkable is that the administration's decision this week is that "it reverses at a stroke months of patient efforts by that same administration to overcome the divisions its Iraq policy created." After a state visit to London in which Bush extolled the virtues of international institutions, a fence-mending meeting with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, and appeals to NATO for increased involvement in Iraq, Bush turned around and "consented to a policy that goes out of its way to reopen the wounds of the prewar debate." And all this occurred even while Washington was asking many of the excluded nations to forgive the debt owed them by Iraq.

The paper says, "Once again the president has allowed his Pentagon to conduct his foreign policy -- and to do so with a brusqueness seemingly calculated to offend." Some members of the administration "may believe they are meting out just punishment" -- but the real price will be paid by Iraqis, U.S. soldiers, and civilians as they "continue an uphill struggle to stabilize and rebuild Iraq without substantial support."

THE NEW YORK TIMES:

"The New York Times" wryly observes, "Just when it looked as if there was a chance to expand international involvement in Iraq, President George W. Bush has reversed field again and left the European allies angry [and] the rest of us wondering exactly what his policy really is."

Last week, Bush seemed ready to seek "the global support he needs" for the mission in Iraq from international institutions -- including NATO and the UN -- as well as an expanding base of contributing nations. But then came the list of nations "approved" to bid for reconstruction contracts in Iraq, and the effective exclusion from this process of nations that did not support the U.S.-led war.

Washington said America's "essential security interests" necessitated the move. But the paper says "it is hard to follow that reasoning when it means cutting out countries that might be able to bid competitively, contribute money, forgive debts and relieve U.S. forces."

The EU is looking into whether these rules violate trade laws. Russia now says it will not write off the $8 billion in debt owed it by Iraq, as the U.S. requested. And the new Canadian government says it will reconsider its own donations.

So only to the victor -- and its allies -- go the spoils of lucrative contracts for rebuilding. But, "The New York Times" says, "No amount of preferential bidding and sweet deals for U.S. companies [will] repay American taxpayers for the cost of going it largely alone."

THE WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE:

"The Wall Street Journal Europe" says in an editorial that if the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) fails to respond meaningfully to Iran's alleged nuclear-weapons development program, the UN body "will have breathed its last [breath]."

IAEA Director Muhammad el-Baradei "has given no indication he understands what's at stake. Neither has the vast majority of IAEA member states." The paper notes it was discovered last year that Iran had two undeclared nuclear sites, one an underground uranium enrichment plant at Natanz, the other a heavy-water facility at Arak. Yet the IAEA "decided not to refer Iran to the UN Security Council for sanction." No referral was even threatened. The paper says, "If this is as far as the agency is prepared to go following inarguable violations of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, then it might as well close up shop."

There is -- at the very least -- the small matter of Tehran's "deception." Moreover, "oil- and gas-rich Iran has little need for peaceful atomic energy. And there is the fact that Iran continues to extend the range of its Shahab missile." The "Journal" says, "Plans should be made now for an appropriate response if IAEA inspectors cannot give Iran a clean bill of health in several months' time." It says "only the threat of Security Council or Western action has any chance of keeping the mullahs tethered to a serious inspections system."

THE TIMES:

An editorial comment in "The Times" of London discusses the EU constitutional convention beginning today in Brussels, where the proposed draft constitution will be debated and, possibly, agreed on. The debate is expected to be laborious and long, perhaps lasting through the night.

"The Times" says: "All EU treaties are preceded by theatrical posturing which avoids the real issue. Veto threats are brandished, while ministers talk urgently of the 'red lines' which cannot be crossed." And all this will make a drawn-out, overnight debate inevitable, the paper says.

The constitution's framework itself "is the core problem," the paper says. The difficulty is not in the details -- rather, the draft's very design is flawed. A "tight declaration as to what the EU exists to do" would be preferable, says the paper. "What has instead emerged is a vast and incomprehensible document, baffling to readers and inaccessible to the electorates of Europe, which conspicuously fails to answer the basic question which a constitution should resolve, namely 'Where does power lie?'"

"The Times" says the "only acceptable outcome" of the weekend summit may be to conclude it without an agreement on the constitution.

THE GUARDIAN:

Britain's "The Guardian" predicts that negotiations this weekend over the EU draft constitution "will not be straightforward. Dozens of issues remain to be sorted out. As so often in EU affairs, the end product will be a trade-off. The outcome will offer a mundane contrast to some of the airier claims which have been made both for and against the document." The text itself is "neither well written nor easy to follow. It has 465 articles and associated protocols, and addresses every conceivable aspect of European cooperation in bureaucratic detail and sometimes turgid prose." As a model for a European constitution, it could be "one of the most disheartening documents of its kind ever drafted." But the paper says if it is viewed instead "as a treaty between 25 nation states, [then] there is much to welcome."

The draft's essentials are "mostly practical and good," says the paper. And the proposed treaty "defines the limits of EU and nation state competences in mostly sensible ways." The paper suggests some competences should remain at the national level, some things should be done only by unanimous decision and other decisions should rely on qualified majority voting. But big issues remain to be discussed and hammered out to agreement, and the "Guardian" says these decisions should not be put off but tackled head on at today's summit.
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