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Western Press Review: Kerry Picks A Running Mate, Russia's Central Asia Bid, The Origins Of Terrorism, Serbia's Pro-EU President

Prague, 7 July 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Much press coverage today is dominated by a discussion of U.S. Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry's choice of a vice-presidential running mate. Kerry announced yesterday that he has chosen Senator John Edwards, a dynamic and personable lawyer from North Carolina, to join him in his bid to win the White House from U.S. President George W. Bush this November. The trial of Saddam Hussein also remains a topic of media interest, as does Russia's response to the rise of NATO influence in Central Asia, the Arab world's efforts to encourage democratic reform, how the first Gulf War paved the way for the age of terrorism, and Serbia's new chance to join Europe, following the election of pro-reform and pro-EU Boris Tadic to the presidency.


An editorial today calls the selection of Senator John Edwards as the Democratic Party's choice of a vice-presidential candidate a "disappointment."

The paper says the 51-year-old senator from North Carolina is "a media favorite" who will at least temporarily excite America's Democratic voters. As a former trial lawyer, Edwards "can grab and hold a crowd," and he brings "vigor and charisma" to a lackluster campaign that needed both these ingredients to succeed.

But Edwards also lacks both "experience and depth," the paper says. He is known within the Senate "as a smooth talker of no particular expertise. He is smart enough to quickly grasp talking points, but the doubt is whether he knows enough to be an asset" if he and Kerry win.

The paper says the Democrats may some day regret choosing Edwards for his "sizzle" in a year when U.S. voters are "looking for substance."


An analysis by Adam Nagourney says in choosing John Edwards to join his team, Democratic presidential challenger John Kerry picked a partner "who embodies the very attributes that some Democrats worry that Mr. Kerry lacks: a vigorous campaign presence, an engaging personal manner and a crisp message."

Edwards "has over the years styled himself as a champion of the working class, the son of a mill worker who grew up in the rural South." The North Carolina senator is also "a prodigious fund-raiser," with "a strong appeal to minority voters. And he brings the skills of a courtroom lawyer to a campaign debate."

The choice revealed a lot about Kerry himself, Nagourney says. Kerry selected "someone whose strengths as a campaigner were often held up to highlight Mr. Kerry's own shortcomings" during the Democratic primaries. And this was "the move of a candidate who is proving to be methodical, discreet, coolly pragmatic and exceedingly self-assured; one who is so intensely focused on victory as to be presumably unruffled by the unflattering stylistic contrasts that will surely be drawn whenever he and Mr. Edwards share a stage."

But Nagourney says choosing Edwards was not without its risks, as he has served just five years in the Senate. And the Republican Party of U.S. President George W. Bush can be expected to attack Edwards, alleging that he lacks experience or qualifications, in what promises to be a fiery contest for the U.S. presidency.


Staff writer Dan Balz says in choosing Senator John Edwards as his vice-presidential candidate, John Kerry involves one of the Democratic Party's "brightest stars" in his campaign, but he also "left himself open to criticism that he had passed up candidates with far more experience for someone who lacks a significant legislative or executive record."

Many observers believe that terrorism and national security continue to dominate the minds of the U.S. electorate. And the choice of the relatively inexperienced Edwards indicates Kerry's belief "that his own foreign policy and national security credentials -- [as a] Vietnam War veteran and longtime member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee -- will be enough to reassure voters of the Democrats' capacity to protect the country in a era of terrorism."

Edwards, for his part, can eloquently address more domestic issues, including voter "anxiety over the economy and worries about the rising cost of health care."

Democrats also note that U.S. President George W. Bush "had no more experience in national security and foreign policy [than Edwards] when he ran four years ago," although Balz says the world "has changed dramatically since as a result of the terrorist attacks" of 11 September 2001.

He says the challenge for Edwards and Kerry will be to prove that the vice-presidential candidate "has not only the campaign skills to energize Democrats but also the intangibles necessary to convince voters that the Democratic ticket is prepared for all contingencies, domestic and foreign."


The London-based daily's Mary Dejevsky calls Senator John Edwards "a persuasive speaker with good lines in rhetoric."

With his nomination as vice-presidential candidate, the Kerry campaign for the presidency "is at least still alive," she says. "But it is only alive, it is not yet kicking with the confidence that is essential to any victorious run."

Nevertheless, Edwards "is the only candidate who can enliven [Kerry's] campaign and help him to victory." He is "the classic complementary candidate. He brings the hospitable warmth of the South to offset the chilliness of Mr. Kerry's Northeastern manners. A self-made millionaire, his career balances Mr. Kerry's patrician New England privilege; a natural orator and instinctive politician, his spontaneity could help disguise Mr. Kerry's stilted reserve."

The Kerry-Edwards bid for the presidency is not the Democrats' dream combination, Dejevsky says. But "[how] well the two men operate as a team will start to be apparent today when they hold their first rally together. As sometimes happens with the more awkward public performers, Mr. Kerry already seemed more relaxed yesterday in the knowledge that he was no longer alone."


An item in "Le Figaro" calls Democratic vice-presidential candidate John Edwards the young wonder of U.S. politics. At barely 51 years old, the Southern senator easily mingles in the crowds with the talents of a speaker that has polished his skill in the courts while serving as a trial lawyer. He has been married for 27 years to the same woman, Elizabeth, whom he met at university, and takes his six-year-old twins on election tours. The couple lost a teenage son in a car accident.

"Le Figaro" says Edwards is like the heir to the youthful Southern legacy of Bill Clinton who actually listened to what his Baptist preachers were telling him.

Edwards also personifies the American Dream, the paper says. Born the son of a mill worker, he has amassed a personal fortune estimated at $40 million. And he, too, invokes the memory of John F. Kennedy, a comparison that has been made more than once of his presidential running mate, John F. Kerry. The paper says Americans never ceased believing in the myth of a young leader as the incarnation and promise of a victorious future.

The jovial young senator also offers a formidable contrast to the incumbent vice president, Dick Cheney. At 63 years of age, Cheney has already had two heart attacks. Associated with the many doubts about the war in Iraq and the dubious profits of his former company, Halliburton, Cheney might prove easy prey for Edwards.


An editorial today says if the trials of Saddam Hussein and his Ba'ath Party supporters lead to the "credible documentation of the atrocities Saddam perpetrated against disparate groups within Iraq and a just prosecution of his war crimes against Iraq's neighbors," this could "alter profoundly the way Iraqis see each other and the way they are seen by the peoples of surrounding nations."

Many Iraqis "resent the rulers and intellectuals of the Arab world who knew about Saddam's crimes yet treated him as though he were the heroic [figure] he pretended to be." There was particular "chauvinism in the indifference" of regional leaders "to Saddam's ethnic cleansing and mass murder of Iraqi Kurds."

If citizens of "Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Saudi Arabia and Lebanon see justice meted out to Saddam and his accomplices by fellow [Arabs], the experience could have a transforming effect," the paper says.

Such a display "could also cast light on the absence of tolerance and human rights in the other monarchies and dictatorial republics of the region."

And if the cooperation and collaboration between Hussein's regime and previous U.S. governments should come to light during the trial, "Iraqis and Americans may both benefit from setting the record straight." Neighboring regimes in the Middle East "were not the only enablers of Saddam's despotic reign."


"Good news from Serbia is rare," writes Laura Silber at the Open Society Institute. "Mass graves, war criminals, economic dysfunction, political assassinations and disregard for international institutions [are] the usual images and themes in this Balkan land."

But on 27 June, "Serbia's voters sent a message to the world that they are tired of the downward spiral of their lives." Presidential candidate Boris Tadic defeated an ultranationalist candidate to win the nation's top post, and Silber says the "sophisticated and personable" Tadic is determined to join the European Union.

But Silber says the "United States, the EU and Serbia's neighbors must move quickly to take advantage of the opportunity Tadic's election represents and recognize the choice Serbian people have made. They need to make clear that the West wants Serbia to join its embrace and accelerate the country's entry."

The United States and Europe must now "help Serbia resolve the outstanding issues -- first the status of Kosovo, but also the dysfunctional union with Montenegro -- that hinder real progress towards European integration." Without outside encouragement, Serbia could "fall into the grips of organized criminals who traffic in drugs and people across EU frontiers."

Despite fierce domestic opposition, Tadic has made clear he will work to turn over some 20 indicted war criminals to The Hague, including Ratko Mladic. Silber says, "[the] failure to cooperate with The Hague has meant self-imposed isolation for Serbia."

"Tadic's Democrats now have the advantage," she says. "They need support to make his victory more than an isolated moment of hope."


Regional analyst Sergei Blagov says as NATO expresses an interest in placing "special focus" on Central Asia, Russia "is emphasizing its own military links to the region in a bid to rebuff any additional overtures to countries Moscow sees as firmly within its own sphere of influence." And Moscow "appears to be relying on one [of] its traditional bargaining chips -- military assistance -- to counter the appeal" of partnering with the West.

A deal signed with Uzbekistan on 17 June at a summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) agreed to a strategic partnership between the two countries' ministries of defense, foreign affairs, interior affairs and their security councils. An earlier (4 June) agreement with Tajikistan gave Russia rent-free access to a military base outside of Dushanbe.

But Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Kazakhstan "have all avoided exclusive military or economic partnerships, preferring instead to curry favor with both the United States and Russia, as well as China." The Kazakh and Kyrgyz presidents attended the NATO summit in Istanbul on 28-29 June but were the only regional leaders to do so.

"Russian President Vladimir Putin avoided the summit, a decision taken as a sign of displeasure at the military alliance's inroads into formerly Soviet-held territory that borders Russia, particularly the Baltics," Blagov says.

"In the meantime, Russia is emphasizing a series of planned military exercises in Central Asia to underline assertions that regional concerns about terrorism are best solved within a CIS [Commonwealth of Independent States] or SCO framework."


"Iraqis are taking control of their destiny," writes John Hughes of the "Deseret Morning News." Baghdad's "tough new prime minister, Iyad Allawi, has moved swiftly to bring [Saddam] Hussein and his top lieutenants to trial on war crimes charges -- a dramatic early assertion of the interim government's authority."

But it is too early yet "to suggest that Iraq can emerge as the inspiration for reform and parallel movement toward democracy in the Middle East, and perhaps in other Muslim lands." But Hughes says, "the pressure for such reform is building, and would gather force if Iraq succeeds."

Ultimately, he says, "it is Arabs and other Muslims themselves who must bring reform to their lands. There are already brave activists in countries such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia, who sometimes face dire consequences for their outspokenness. Arab academics have written frankly in recent studies for the UN about the negative impact of political repression on their countries' economies."

But Hughes says, "the economic power and moral persuasion of Western countries must be a significant part of this process." An initial White House initiative for fostering reform in the region was rejected as being too coercive and attempting to impose reform from the outside.

A new version of the plan "involves much more dialogue with Arab nations, coordination with the efforts of European countries and other institutions, and heavy emphasis on economic development," Hughes says. "The hope is that the new version of the reform plan is couched in terms of partnership, rather than neocolonial imposition, and will therefore be more acceptable to Arab leaders."


In a contribution to the British daily "The Guardian," Salim Lone, formerly of the UN mission in Iraq, says it was the first Gulf War in 1991, the ensuing UN sanctions, and the stationing of U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia that first drove "deep cleavages in relations between Islam and the West." More importantly, these developments "[gave] rise to the age of global terror, beginning with the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993."

And the war in Iraq today has made the United States newly reviled by the Arab and Muslim worlds. Lone says the rise of Islamist militancy "is driven by U.S. policies and cannot be glossed over with self-serving assertions that 'they' hate Western freedoms and are inherently barbaric and uncivilized." Beheading hostages in Iraq is indeed barbaric, Lone says, but "so is the killing of over 600 innocent Fallujans in a week of aerial bombing, or the death of 500,000 children through UN sanctions."

"There is only one way to confront the terrorism challenge, which is for the U.S. to extend Muslims a hand of friendship and embrace their legitimate causes. This would allow Muslims themselves to confront those who might still continue to practice terror. But merely rolling back the aggressive Bush administration policies will not be sufficient to win Muslim trust; many more far-reaching changes than are part of current U.S. political discourse are needed."

"In the quest for peace, a just solution to the Palestinian crisis remains a vital priority," Lone says. But a beginning must be made in Iraq, "and a UN mission given the responsibility for reconciling that torn nation."

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