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Western Press Review: Putin's National Address, NATO In Afghanistan, The Draft UN Resolution On Iraq

Prague, 27 May 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Among the topics vying for media attention today are the resignation of Harri Holkeri, the head of the UN Mission in Kosovo; Russian President Vladimir Putin's first post-reelection address to a joint session of parliament; NATO's faltering mission in Afghanistan; and the "fatal flaw" of the U.S.- and British-sponsored draft revolution on Iraq presented at the UN this week (24 May).


A "Jane's" analysis says the resignation of Harri Holkeri, head of the UN administration in Kosovo, may have been inevitable following the eruption of widespread looting and violence in mid-March. The drowning deaths (16 March) of three ethnic Albanian boys after a reported altercation with Serbian youths sparked the worst ethnically motivated hostility in the province in five years, left dozens dead and thousands homeless. Holkeri said the clashes had shaken the UN mission "to its foundations."

"Jane's" report says, "Less than 10 months after Holkeri was appointed, the UN is now facing the daunting task of finding its fifth special representative" since the UN began administering the province in 1999, following the NATO-led bombing campaign to oust former Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic.

"Administering the ethnically divided province of Kosovo is proving to be the poisoned chalice of the diplomatic circuit," says "Jane's."

It now remains to be seen "who the UN will manage to persuade to take on the thankless task of trying to hold together an operation that is now increasingly resented by both the ethnic Albanian majority and the Serbian minority," the report says. "In recent months tensions have been fueled by the lack of a coherent political solution. Whoever accepts the post will inherit a traumatized and embattled administration."


An editorial today discusses Russian President Vladimir Putin's state of the nation speech yesterday, his first formal address to the Federal Assembly -- both houses of parliament -- since he won re-election in March. Putin pledged to use his second term to address issues of vital socio-economic importance to each Russian citizen and every Russian family.

The Kremlin chief devoted over one-quarter of his speech to the need to provide affordable access to housing, health care, and education for the entire Russian population. The Moscow daily says Putin made clear that he sees improvements in these sectors "as necessary not only for raising the standard of living but for increasing economic growth and Russia's competitiveness in the global economy."

But there was little mention of some of the major issues Putin has devoted attention to in the past, namely corruption and bureaucratic troubles. These problems have clearly not been solved, says the paper. Administrative reform "has only just begun in earnest and the jury is still out."

"Until corruption and bureaucracy are curbed, Russia will never solve its problems in housing, health care and education," says "The Moscow Times." "Perhaps more importantly, it will never become a major global economic player."

Putin went on to emphasize "his commitment to democracy, called for the development of a civil society, and rebuked those who accuse him of creeping authoritarianism."

But the paper asks, "Will Putin practice what he preaches? In post-Soviet Russia there has never been a democratic handover of executive power from an incumbent to the opposition." The day such a handover occurs "will be the day we have proof positive that Putin's commitment to democracy is more than mere rhetoric."


An editorial in the London-based daily says the diplomatic rhetoric of the past few days has made things even less clear than usual, as Britain and the United States hammer out the details of a jointly sponsored draft resolution presented at the UN this week.

Recent reports citing British Prime Minister Tony Blair as calling for "full sovereignty" for Iraq following the scheduled 30 June transfer of power from the coalition have prompted speculation that there is a growing rift between Washington and London over the future leadership in Baghdad. The paper says Blair is right in insisting that Iraqi sovereignty must include the power to determine whether coalition forces stay in the country and when they withdraw. But it says it is also "unrealistic" to expect U.S. President George W. Bush "to cede command of U.S. forces to the UN in the middle of the U.S. election campaign."

Perhaps the only thing now clear "is that, five weeks before the 30 June deadline for the handover, the terms on which Iraq regains its sovereignty have not yet been finalized."

The paper says it is realistic to expect that any sovereign Iraqi government "would have the deciding say in where troops were deployed and for what purpose. If this is a condition for other countries to leave their troops in Iraq, or contribute to a new and genuinely multinational force, that is a price that Washington should be prepared to pay."


An item in this French news daily says the status of foreign forces in Iraq and their future relations with the post-transfer government in Baghdad is fast becoming the most thorny issue of the draft resolution presented at the United Nations this week.

"Le Figaro" calls this issue the fundamental test of the real capacity that the interim Iraqi government will have when it achieves sovereignty on 30 June. Several Security Council members, including China, France, and Germany, have demanded that the resolution's wording be modified to allow the Iraqis increased room for maneuver.
"The status of foreign forces in Iraq and their future relations with the post-transfer government in Baghdad is fast becoming the most thorny issue of the draft resolution presented at the United Nations this week."

According to the jointly sponsored British-American draft, multinational forces in Iraq will continue to operate under a very broad mandate, with the authority to take any necessary measures to maintain security and stability in the country, and to prevent terrorism. The mandate is to be reexamined at the end of 12 months or at the request of the Iraqi interim government that will be elected at the end of this year. And it is this stipulation that has caused an apparent misunderstanding between the White House and British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who said this week that Iraqis would have the last word on military operations.

According to U.S. Secretary of State (Foreign Minister) Colin Powell, however, the United States will keep its own council in conducting troop missions, since it is U.S. soldiers and success that are on the line. Powell has, nevertheless, stated that arrangements would be made with future Iraqi leaders of all levels regarding coordination between coalition and Iraqi forces.


Baghdad-based journalist Hiwa Osman says there is a "fatal flaw" in the draft UN resolution tabled at the United Nations by the U.S. and British governments this week. "It makes no mention of the Transitional Administrative Law (TAL), signed by the 25 members of the Iraqi Governing Council in March, which provides an historic bill of rights for the Iraqi people and a road map to a permanent and elected government in 2005."

Osman says that, for the Iraqi people, the post-30 June situation in the country is "a looming uncertainty." He says the "only possible anchor for them is the TAL,” which some consider an interim constitution. The failure to incorporate this document into the draft resolution “will leave the Iraqi individual unprotected, the new government adrift in a sea of political sharks and the international community's credibility questioned."

Without the provisions laid out in the TAL, the new post-transfer Iraqi government will have "no option but to enforce the current law drawn up by the former Baathist regime to bolster party and central government power and keep the people too repressed to revolt."

Osman says the final UN resolution "should recognize the TAL as the touchstone that provides the guiding principles of the new government." He says, "Despite its shortcomings, the TAL is the only available road map for moving toward a democratically elected government in Iraq. Its bill of rights and provisions for a separation of powers offer the only guarantee for the Iraqi citizen that the caretaker government will not abuse its power and its citizens."


An item in today's "FT" says bluntly, "The timing for next month's NATO summit in Istanbul could not be worse."

In Afghanistan, NATO's first out-of-area mission, the alliance "is hard-pressed to provide a medical corps or a few transport helicopters for the 6,500-strong NATO-led International Security Assistance Force."

Politically, NATO ambitions "to develop its own Greater Middle East Policy have been lowered as Washington dilutes its grand plans for the region." And summit discussions of NATO's possible future role in Iraq "will also be limited, as world leaders focus on the handover of sovereignty two days later. So it is hardly surprising that the atmosphere at alliance headquarters in Brussels is gloomy."

NATO's "force planning system" has "a huge inventory of helicopters, tanks, troops and aircraft." But the paper says none of these is immediately deployable for specific missions.

The "FT" says NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer is upbeat, however. He is seeking to overhaul the military planning for NATO missions and reform how they are financed.

There is a "disconnect" between force planning and how the forces are generated, de Hoop Scheffer says. He says when NATO makes a political commitment, is must be willing to send in forces to honor that commitment. The NATO chief is also calling for more common funding for what the paper calls "the essential capabilities," including "heavy airlift, transport helicopters and medical facilities -- exactly the shortfalls in Afghanistan."

With Afghanistan today being "the catalyst and the big test for NATO's ability to operate out of area," Istanbul may merely serve to start the debate on the alliance's military future.


An editorial today says with all the discussion and debate over Iran's alleged nuclear program, an "often-overlooked danger that Iranian possession of nuclear weapons would pose: that the regime could pass along nuclear weapons to Hizbollah or other terrorist organizations that it supports."

To be sure, this would be the worst-case scenario, the paper says. "But, given the nature of the Iranian government -- a regime striving to obtain nuclear weapons that has supported terrorism from its inception a quarter-century ago -- it would be folly to simply dismiss the possibility that it might decide to transfer nuclear weapons to one of its terrorist allies."

"The Washington Times" says, "Despite Iran's protests to the contrary, all signs suggest that Iran's nuclear program is anything but peaceful."

The UN's International Atomic Energy Agency will hold talks next month in Vienna focusing on Iran's nuclear program. And "[all] indications are that the United States will reluctantly agree to postpone action against Iran -- effectively leaving the issue to the European Union for now." The paper says, "Given the Europeans' dismal track record to date, this hardly seems promising."