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Western Press Review: Russian Elections, Iran And The IAEA, Securing Belgrade's Cooperation With The Hague

Prague, 10 March 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Among the topics addressed by analysis and commentary in some of the major media outlets today are the release of five British nationals from the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba; upcoming presidential elections in Russia; securing Belgrade's cooperation with the international war crimes tribunal in The Hague; and how the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) should respond to Iran's dissembling on its nuclear program.


"The Washington Post's" Anne Applebaum says one of the difficulties of judging democracy in Russia -- or in Venezuela, Iran, or Iraq -- is that, "while the outer forms of democracy are in place, much of the inner substance [is] not."

Presidential elections this week (14 March) in Russia are virtually certain to re-elect incumbent Vladimir Putin. After all, Applebaum says, Putin has "the unanimous support of the national electronic media complex, much of which is owned directly or indirectly by his friends. He has no serious rivals, because he has jailed, expelled or undercut anyone who appeared likely to become one."

But she says what is really missing in Russian democratic culture is "not just a political opposition but the machinery needed to create one" -- including independent businessmen to fund alternative parties, independent journalists, honest election officials "and, above all, voters who do not still retain some fear of independent voting." A truly democratic national foundation also needs "politically educated voters who feel they have a reason -- other than a desire for cheap groceries -- to turn up at a polling booth."

Applebaum concedes that these factors are not always sufficiently present in even the most entrenched democracies. But ultimately, they help ensure "that elections are, most of the time, genuine contests between at least two plausible political parties."


"The Independent" calls it a "disgrace" that it has taken two years for U.S. authorities to decide that five of nine British nationals detained at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, should be returned to the United Kingdom. They arrived home yesterday. Four are being questioned by British police and one was released. The other four remain in U.S. hands. After the protracted bargaining between London and Washington that led to the release, the paper says it now seems "the interests of the four may have been sacrificed for the freedom of the five."

The British government has been unable to influence Washington -- "its closest ally" -- in any way regarding the Guantanamo detainees, the paper says. "It has had to stand by as British citizens languished in a judicial vacuum devised for the very purpose of keeping foreigners confined without any legal recourse. It has had to listen to the U.S. invoking the danger of war and promising to abide selectively with parts of the Geneva Conventions, while not recognizing its detainees as prisoners of war."

The paper says the whole prolonged episode "has demonstrated the hopeless disparity in power" between Britain and the United States. It has also exposed the hollowness of the "special relationship" that supposedly exists between Downing Street and the White House.

"When the United States invokes national security, no appeal to any special relationship or to otherwise universally accepted definitions of rights cuts any ice." When confronted with U.S. security concerns, Britain finds itself "in exactly the same position as other countries," with no recourse but to seek to embarrass Washington by making the row public -- something the paper says diplomats are generally reluctant to do.


Serbia's new Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica "is heading for a clash with the European Union and the United States over cooperation with the international war crimes tribunal at The Hague," says the London-based daily. In navigating these differences, it says the West must uphold the tribunal's desire for justice, but it "must also avoid the risk of a new bout of political instability in the Balkans."

Knowing there is little public support among Serbs for cooperation with the international court, the new prime minister has "laid down the gauntlet [by] announcing that cooperation with The Hague tribunal was not a priority."

But the West must avoid a hasty reaction, the paper says. War criminals must be brought to justice, and suspects should face the international tribunal "to ensure there is no political interference in trials. On this, there can be no compromise." But the court "could consider helping Mr. Kostunica to cooperate [by] offering to hold some hearings in Belgrade." While both the United States and the European Union "have rightly tied future aid and political and economic links to Belgrade's cooperation with The Hague, [they] should give Mr. Kostunica a little room for maneuver."

The paper says, "Serbia's stability is at stake, and with it the stability of the whole region. While bringing war criminals to justice is important, so is anchoring the countries of the former Yugoslavia to the rock of the EU."

True peace in the region "will fail to materialize if Serbs remain isolated and resentful people, prey to ultranationalism and crime."


An editorial today says the Board of Governors meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) now faces "a tremendous challenge: what to do about a systematic, ongoing campaign of cheating and deception by Tehran."

Once again, the United States and the European Union disagree on whether to take a forceful and uncompromising position. Washington has already accused some EU members "that their soft stance was undercutting common efforts" to force the regime to fully account for its nuclear program. But the EU -- led by Germany, Britain, and France -- prefers to coax Iran's cooperation in dismantling its weapons systems through engagement. Yet "their recent performance record is hardly encouraging," says "The Washington Times."

Tehran has been "emboldened" by the EU's willingness to challenge Washington's approach, says the paper. Last week (7 March), the government-controlled press "threatened to stop any cooperation with the IAEA." A senior official (Hassan Rowhani) from the Supreme Council for National Security also demanded that Iran be recognized as part of "the world's nuclear club," joining the ranks of Britain, the United States, France, Russia, and China.

This would be "an intolerable outcome," says the paper. "The world would be a much more dangerous place if a violent, paranoid regime like that in Tehran were to become a recognized nuclear power. The clock continues to tick on a successful diplomatic conclusion -- and the hour is late."


The so-called neoconservatives within the U.S. administration -- thought by many to be behind the plan to effect regime change in Iraq -- have long been a topic of debate in the press. But now meet the neoliberals, says Daniel Vernet in "Le Monde."

The 11 September attacks and its reverberations, the war in Afghanistan and the invasion of Iraq have given rise to a "tectonic shift" not just in U.S. foreign policy but in the manner of considering international politics in general.

Neoconservatives traditionally favor more muscular, interventionist policies to promote democracy and U.S. strategic interests across the globe. Liberals have generally opposed the use of force ever since the Vietnam War. Vernet says the first crisis in liberal thinking came with the Balkan wars of the 1990s -- some stayed entrenched in their pacifist, noninterventionist camps, while others wondered whether inaction was more dangerous than intervention.

The idea of "humanitarian intervention" finally won favor among the majority of liberal intellectuals, who then found themselves grouped uncomfortably with the neoconservatives.

The 11 September attacks had the same unifying effect, says Vernet. Afghanistan, it could be argued, was a humanitarian intervention, particularly with regard to the plight of women in the country. But the war in Iraq poses a more difficult question. Was it a war of choice or a war of necessity? The debate is complicated by the fact that the stated casus belli -- Iraq's development of weapons of mass destruction -- turned out to be mistaken.

And yet, many liberals support the war and the toppling of Saddam Hussein as fulfilling the humanitarian criteria for a "just war." However, the neoliberals also emphasize promoting Western values and principles to ensure global stability, and not relying merely on American muscle to do the job.