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Western Press Review: G-8 Agreement On Mideast Reform, And Afghanistan's 'Forgotten War'

Prague, 11 June 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Commentary and news analysis in the press today looks at the Group of Eight (G-8) agreement on promoting reform in the Middle East; Iraq's new prime minister, Iyad Allawi; the "forgotten war" in Afghanistan; transforming the trans-Atlantic alliance; and the debate over sending NATO troops to Iraq.


An editorial today discusses what it calls the "centerpiece" of the G-8 summit meeting that ended yesterday in the U.S. state of Georgia. U.S. President George W. Bush presented a broad plan for political and economic reform in the Middle East to the heads of the world's leading industrialized nations. But Washington's failure to consult Middle Eastern governments in drawing up the document soon "provoked a hostile response from the regional powers," the paper says.

The White House's "Greater Middle East Initiative" was eventually transformed into something called the Partnership for Progress and a Common Future with the Region of the Broader Middle East and North Africa. The paper says this "watering down" of the initial text reflects, among other changes, the summit leaders' acknowledgement "that successful reform should not and could not be imposed from outside, and that support for it should go hand in hand with the search for a settlement of the Arab-Israeli dispute."

Creating a "Forum for the Future" to provide a framework for negotiations between the G-8 and Middle Eastern powers was one of the document’s many suggestions.

"Bush is right to maintain his push for political and economic liberalization in a region stagnating under autocracy and state control," "The Daily Telegraph" says, comparing this initiative with the 1975 agreement with the Soviet Union known as the Helsinki Accords, which enumerated certain inalienable civic rights and freedoms.

The future of Iraq "will obviously be the key test of the [U.S.] president's vision for the Middle East," says the paper. "But current difficulties there do not invalidate his belief that peoples of the region should have the chance democratically to determine their own future."


The London-based weekly magazine says after the 1991 war with Iraq, then U.S. President George H.W. Bush, the current U.S. president's father, managed to use "his newfound clout to kick-start both the Israeli-Arab peace process and economic reforms across the Middle East."

The presidential son had sought to reap similar benefits after his own Gulf War, launched in 2003. But after having "stumbled in Iraq, annoyed many of America's allies and enraged the very Middle Easterners who were meant to be uplifted, he seemed to have fumbled the ball in midplay."

The G-8 summit this week on Sea Island saw the introduction of a U.S. proposal to boost education, establish multilateral forums for debate, and provide microfinancing for entrepreneurial projects throughout the Middle East. These moves are designed "to drain the swamp of political disenfranchisement that waters the roots of terrorism."

But the magazine says "summit pageantry and a grand title could not hide the initiative's diminished ambition. This is due to America's dented prestige, tight budget and the difficulty in coaxing reluctant G-8 partners on board." Moreover, many Western powers "need to sustain the very Arab governments they hope to reform, to stave off more immediate dangers."

The Western world has long spoken of "democratization" in the region. "But results have been scant, largely because recipient governments know that their benefactors would prefer stability to the political unrest that might produce, say, a flight of refugees to Europe [or] costlier oil."


This secular news daily says that although more than two weeks remain before Iraq officially regains its sovereignty on 30 June, "its new prime minister is already acting like a sovereign. Since his appointment June 1, Iyad Allawi has defused two explosive issues: the status of U.S.-led forces in Iraq, and the rights of Iraq's Kurdish minority."

Allawi "ably" handled the question of foreign troops in Iraq with a letter to the UN Security Council that "helped pave the way" for the unanimous approval on 8 June of a new UN resolution on Iraqi sovereignty.

Allawi then "deftly" handled the concerns of Iraq's Kurds "by assuring them that his government would recognize their rights as laid out in an interim constitution approved by the previous government." Some Iraqi Shi'a groups had rejected that constitution, believing it to grant too much power to the Kurdish minority. The Kurds, in turn, threatened to withdraw their support from Allawi's new government. But Allawi "wisely" consulted with Shi'a leaders before deciding to give his backing to the constitution.

"Nothing threatens Iraq's future more than its potential breakup or civil war," paper says. "By backing the interim constitution, Allawi has avoided that danger -- for now."


An editorial in the London-based financial daily calls an attack on civilian workmen in northern Afghanistan "only the latest and most sinister of the proliferating bad omens for the country." The 11 Chinese construction workers, who were building a road near Konduz, were shot early yesterday while they slept.

Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai "was meant to be presiding over a country on the path to recovery after years of conflict. Afghanistan was to have been a success story for the U.S. war on terror. Some hoped the campaign would be a contrast to the more recently launched war in Iraq."

The Afghan people and members of the international community "must now redouble their efforts if they are to salvage anything of this vision of a stable Afghanistan."

The way the country is being run "is hardly encouraging," says the paper. "In the south, U.S.-led forces are fighting an anti-insurgency war against the extremist Taliban and their supporters, who have reinstalled themselves in large parts of the region along the Pakistan border."

An "inadequate NATO force" with "scant political backing" from alliance member states has been charged with "[maintaining] security for the weak central government of Mr. Karzai." But yet, throughout Afghanistan, "warlords with their private armies -- the same men who brought disaster to the country in the past -- do pretty much what they want, including drug-trafficking."

The paper says, "Whatever criticisms are made of U.S. tactics, [the] decision to pour in more troops shows a commitment to military victory."

Bush "may be neglecting the simmering conflicts in east Asia because of his obsession with Iraq, but he has at least recognized the importance of the fight in Afghanistan."


Columnist Klaus-Dieter Frankenberger says following World War II and throughout the Cold War, the trans-Atlantic alliance experienced an idyllic time, when "the victors and the vanquished came together" in a union that was "the product of mutual beliefs, a response to a new [Soviet] threat...and far-sighted political leadership."

But the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States and the subsequent "feeling of unease on the part of the Europeans about the political and military reaction to them by the [U.S.] administration ultimately led to a confrontation" between the erstwhile allies.

After the 2001 attacks, "the contrast within the West's political-cultural style and in its political-strategic substance -- as a result of the unequal distribution of the means of power -- became obvious." Much of Europe and America "collided during the Iraq conflict, and it will take a major effort for both sides to recover from the blows."

But is this "vast store of common interests, aims and values shared by Americans and Europeans still big enough to form a powerful, mutual alliance in the 21st century?" Frankenberger asks.

He says today, "a world of differences and few similarities" seems to stretch across the Atlantic. And "both sides [will] have to accept the idea that Atlantic rivalries and competition over their political designs for the world will no longer be an exception to the rule. But even if that happens, one thing remains true: They can accomplish the most when they work as partners."


Staff writer Dana Milbank says U.S. officials had been hoping the unanimous passage this week of a UN resolution on Iraq "would make it easier to recruit more international funds and manpower" at the G-8 meeting on Sea Island, Georgia. Bush said NATO should be involved in Iraq, an assertion that was "quickly rebutted" by French President Jacques Chirac and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The summit leaders did manage to agree on a wide range of issues, including AIDS in Africa, promoting democracy in the Middle East, and urging UN action to halt a burgeoning genocide in Sudan.

"But the meeting was dominated by Iraq and the Bush administration's efforts to secure more international help for the interim Iraqi government. Bush's hopes of winning NATO involvement, foreign troops and debt relief for Iraq were thwarted at various points this week by France, Germany and Turkey," says Milbank.

And many leaders at the summit remained doubtful about the prospects for Iraq, says Milbank. And Bush, when asked "where he expects foreign assistance to come from in terms of debt relief and troops, [did] not provide specifics."


In a separate item, Glenn Kessler says the Bush administration "has suddenly discovered diplomacy."

"After three years of criticizing President Bush for taking a unilateralist approach to foreign policy -- a charge Bush officials maintained was unfair -- foreign officials attending the Group of Eight summit [said] they noticed a distinct shift in the administration's tone and attitude. Suddenly, officials said, the Americans were more willing to listen, more eager to resolve differences and more interested in finding a pragmatic solution."

Tensions were still visible, Kessler says, "especially over Iraq and Bush's democracy push in the Middle East." But "given the battles of the past three years, the mood here appeared less confrontational" than even past G-8 summits under better circumstances.

U.S. administration officials "privately concede that their diplomatic skills at times have been lacking, especially in the period before and after the Iraq war," Kessler says. "Now, after a year of grim news in Iraq, the administration is scrambling to build international support for the nascent Iraqi government, which requires that U.S. officials listen to the concerns of other nations."


Stephane Marchand, writing from the G-8 summit, says that if the new European Union of 25 members is looking to become a great political and economic power, it was not in evidence in Georgia. Admittedly, the EU's representatives -- European Commission President Romano Prodi and Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern -- had a tough time of it. Most of the summit's discussions focused on Iraq, an issue that continues to divide EU members. Moreover, the EU's security apparatus remains "completely impotent" since it relies for its resources on the mere goodwill of member governments.

Europe did not find its strength on economic issues either, says Marchand. French President Jacques Chirac warned in vain of the dangers posed by today's exchange rates and interest-rate levels, and the enormous U.S. budget deficit. But at 4.5 percent, the growth of the U.S. economy is at least twice that of the 12 eurozone countries – and "neither France nor Germany are in a position to give lessons regarding budget deficits," says Marchand.

On Sea Island, the EU had a new opportunity to weigh in as a major power on the affairs of the world. But instead, Marchand says, Europe just revealed its divisiveness.