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Western Press Review: Bush's Nukes, Rybkin's 'Vacation,' Afghan Women, And Iran's Crisis

Prague, 12 February 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Commentary and analysis in today's press covers the call by U.S. President George W. Bush for tighter controls to stop the spread of nuclear weapons; the mysterious disappearance and reappearance of Russian presidential candidate Ivan Rybkin; the plight of Afghan women; and Iran's electoral crisis.


An editorial in the "Los Angeles Times" titled "A Nuclear Mixed Message" discusses U.S. President George W. Bush's call for tighter international controls to stop the spread of nuclear weapons.

In his speech yesterday, Bush said international treaties must be strengthened to prevent terrorists or failed states from obtaining nuclear weapons. The "Los Angeles Times" says Bush's speech will keep up the pressure on Iran to disclose its nuclear research and on Pakistan to unravel the network that sold nuclear secrets on the black market.

Bush's proposals are beneficial, the daily says, "but their message is blurred because the [U.S.] administration is underfunding effective programs to curb proliferation." It says the Nunn-Lugar program of destroying Cold War-era Russian nuclear weapons is to receive less funding in the 2005 budget -- $409 million from $450 million this year.

On the other hand, the daily says, the administration's National Strategy to Combat Weapons of Mass Destruction "is based on the notion that the U.S. can enhance its missile force while asking the rest of the world not to build such weapons."

It then quotes nonproliferation expert George Perkovich: "A double standard 'seems destined to reduce international cooperation in enforcing nonproliferation commitments rather than enhance it.'"


"A political farce in Russia" is how the "International Herald Tribune" describes the curious affair of Russian presidential candidate Ivan Rybkin. Rybkin disappeared last week, sparking speculation he had either been the target of electoral dirty tricks or had staged a bizarre publicity stunt. He resurfaced this week (10 February), saying first that he had taken a short break in Kyiv, and subsequently hinting that something more sinister was behind his absence.

The "International Herald Tribune" says the only effect of Rybkin's political demise is to underscore the lack of serious opposition to Russian President Vladimir Putin. "That might well make President George W. Bush jealous," the daily says, "but a lopsided showing by Putin is certain to stir memories of the long history of extremely successful showings by his predecessors in the Kremlin."

The daily does not dispute Putin's genuine popularity. But it adds: "The problem is that Putin has used his enormous popularity less to extend democracy than to constrain it. He has brought national electronic news media back under the Kremlin's control, he has waged a crude campaign to crush the politically ambitious oil baron Mikhail [Khodorkovskii], and he has brooked no criticism of Russia's brutal policies in Chechnya."

None of this is tantamount to fixing elections, the daily says, "but the one-sided news broadcasts and the message that an all-powerful president resents opposition must have played a role in the sweeping victory by pro-Putin candidates in Duma elections last December, and in keeping genuine opponents out of the presidential race."

Perhaps Rybkin's disappearance will have one effect, the daily concludes: It "will serve notice to Putin that he gains little from running against nonentities, and that the authority acquired from an honest race against a respected challenger is greater than the power gleaned from getting all the votes."


"The Guardian" today carries a piece by Mariam Rawi, a member of the Revolutionary Association of Women of Afghanistan. In "Rule of the Rapists," she says that more than two years after the U.S.-led war ousted Afghanistan's hard-line Islamist Taliban regime, the plight of women "remains appalling."

Girls and women in Kabul and some other cities are free to go to school and have jobs, she says, but this is not the case in most other parts of the country. "In the western province of Herat, the warlord Ismail Khan imposes Taliban-like decrees," she says. "Many women have no access to education and are banned from working in foreign nongovernmental organizations or UN offices."

Women cannot take a taxi or walk unless accompanied by a close male relative. If seen with men who are not close relatives, women can be arrested by the "special police" and forced to undergo a hospital examination to see if they have recently had sexual intercourse. "Because of this continued oppression," Rawi says, "every month a large number of girls commit suicide -- many more than under the Taliban."

Rawi says that, despite its rhetoric, the government of Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai "actively pursues policies that are anti-women."

"Women cannot find jobs, and girls' schools often lack the most basic materials, such as books and chairs. There is no legal protection for women, and the older legal systems prohibit them from getting help when they need it. Female singers are not allowed on Kabul television, and women's songs are not played, while scenes in films of women not wearing the hijab are censored."

But this is easily explained: The men who hold the real power are the former commanders of the Northern Alliance, men "who imposed anti-women restrictions as soon as they took control in 1992 and started a reign of terror throughout Afghanistan."

The "war on terror" toppled the Taliban regime, Rawi says, but it has not removed religious fundamentalism, which is the main cause of misery for Afghan women. "In fact," Rawi concludes, "by bringing the warlords back to power, the U.S. has replaced one misogynist fundamentalist regime with another."


"Jane's Intelligence Digest" turns its attention to the election crisis in Iran, where pro-reform parties have called for a boycott of parliamentary elections later this month because more than 2,000 mainly pro-reform candidates have been barred from running by the hard-line Guardians Council.

"Jane's" says unsuccessful efforts to break the deadlock have set the stage for a much more serious political crisis in the near future. "A sweeping parliamentary victory for the conservatives might trigger President Mohammad Khatami's resignation," it says. "This, in turn, could act as a catalyst in re-igniting popular unrest in the country."

Widespread civil unrest could also provide an excuse for foreign intervention, the analysis says, noting that the U.S. administration of George W. Bush has labeled Iran as one of the "axis of evil" states.

So far, the West has kept its distance from the power struggle in Iran. But if conservatives gain a sweeping victory, "Jane's" says, "the Bush administration might decide to take active steps" to push through a policy of regime change in Tehran. "Jane's" says the conservatives are well aware of this possibility and are keen to avoid taking provocative action that could ignite discontent into a potential civil war.

The crucial factor, it says, will be the extent to which the current disillusionment of many pro-reform voters will be reflected in their apathy on election day. "A low turnout by Khatami's supporters," it says, "may well seal the president's political fate."


Our last commentary is a light-hearted look at a political love affair -- the one between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his loyal supporters. Boris Kagarlitsky writes in "The Moscow Times" that this year, St. Valentine's Day (14 February) -- the holiday of love -- coincides with the official start of the presidential election campaign.

This is only fitting, Kagarlitsky says, "because the campaign is shaping up to be a month-long love-in with piles of presents." Putin already has his first big gift, he says -- a bill introduced by lawmakers from the Ivanovo regional assembly calling for the presidential term to be extended to seven years. Putin says he's against it, and has no plans to amend the constitution.

But Kagarlitsky is not convinced. It all reminds him of the strategy described in Shakespeare's "Richard III" and Pushkin's "Boris Godunov." "The crowd, incited by seasoned spin doctors, entreat the hero to accept the crown. He declines and even grows angry, but in the end he acquiesces."

Such orchestrated displays of affection, Kagarlitsky says, have a long history in this country. He closes with an old Soviet joke: "A lecture titled 'The Three Types of Love' is being held in a kolkhoz social club. The speaker approaches the podium, clears his throat and begins. 'The first type of love is that between a man and a woman -- but you know all about that. Next we have love between two men, but this is strictly forbidden in our country, so we'll move on. The third type is our people's love for its government, and this will be our subject for the next three hours.'"