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Western Press Review: Saddam Shows A Strong Hand

Prague, 30 October 1997 (RFE/RL) -- Since the days of Queen Scheherezade, Baghdad has been a legendary center of scheming, manipulation, and immense miscalculations. Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's addition to the legend earlier this month and yesterday generates widespread Western press commentary.

TIMES: The Iraqi move will have exactly the opposite effect by uniting the Security Council against Saddam

Correspondents James Bone in New York and Michael Theodoulou in Nicosia describe the latest maneuvering in a news analysis. They write: "Iraq set the stage for a showdown with the United States and its Gulf War allies yesterday by announcing that it would bar all Americans from working as United Nations weapons inspectors in the country."

The writers say: "The Iraqi strategy was seen as a crude and ill-advised attempt by Saddam, emboldened by apparent disunity in the Security Council, to ease the crippling seven-year-old embargo: last Thursday Russia and France blocked British and American efforts to impose a UN travel ban on Iraqi officials who interfered with UN weapons inspections. But diplomats said the Iraqi move would have exactly the opposite effect, by uniting the Security Council against him and giving the Americans a platform for firm action."

They write: "Lacking votes at the UN for renewed military action against Iraq, Britain and the United States have always argued that any material breach by Iraq of the terms of the ceasefire gives legal justification for an attack."

NEWSDAY: This is not the first time Iraq has seemed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory

Josh Friedman writes today in a news analysis from the United Nations that Saddam seems to have turned chilly an international climate that had been warming to him. Friedman writes: "Disarmament has been a sore point ever since Iraq lost the 1991 Gulf War, and it is a key issue in the United Nations' reluctance to lift tough economic sanctions imposed on Iraq for the 1990 invasion of Kuwait. In addition to prompting the two UN actions, Iraq's latest effort to oppose the disarmament process appears to have the unintended consequence of pushing France and possibly Russia away from challenging the United States, which has been the toughest in insisting the sanctions be maintained."

He writes: "This is not the first time Iraq has seemed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory at the United Nations. On several occasions, it has scared off support for easing sanctions from France and Russia, both of which are owed huge debts by Iraq and have business interests there."

WASHINGTON POST: Saddam may have miscalculated

John Lancaster in Amman today, concurs that the Iraqi president appears to have overreached. It says: "The Iraqi move drew immediate and angry reaction from member nations -- including France, which in the past has expressed sympathy for Iraq's pleas for lifting sanctions."

The writer says: "In the view of Western diplomats and Jordanian officials who closely monitor the situation in Iraq, the Iraqi declaration appears to be an effort by Saddam to split the U.S.-led coalition that drove Iraqi forces from Kuwait in the 1991 Persian Gulf War. France and Russia had been wavering in their support for tougher measures aimed at forcing Iraq to comply with the inspections. But the initial reaction from Security Council members suggests that if Saddam's motivation was to drive a wedge between the former allies, he may have miscalculated."

CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR: Dual containment raises the question of who is containing whom.

Daniel Schorr, analyst for the United States' National Public Radio, warned in a commentary published earlier this month that lack of U.S. clarity on Iraq was laying up potential grief. Schorr wrote: "The Clinton administration's policy of dual containment of Iraq and Iran has run into some strange twists and turns that raise the question of who is containing whom."

He said: "In most cases, the United States finds itself trying to enforce its sanctions on unwilling allies," and noted: "In Luxembourg, the European Union, whose members are sending their ambassadors back to Teheran, formally denounced the United States for trying to enforce its laws in other countries."

Schorr went on: "Iraq, meanwhile, has returned to its practice of barring United Nations inspectors from suspected weapons sites. On two recent occasions, UN relief convoys have come under attack in northern Iraq."

He concluded: "At one point after another, U.S. efforts to maintain the containment of Iraq and Iran are running into opposition from countries more interested in pursuing their economic interests than a superpower's ideological whims. The danger is that the United States, trying to isolate its Middle East antagonists, will find itself isolated."

LOS ANGELES TIMES: The consequences of Iraqi cheating could one day prove horrifying

In an editorial this week writes that failure to rein Saddam in may mean that the Gulf War didn't diminish, only delayed, an awful menace. The newspaper said: "Earlier this month the head of the special U.N. commission trying to make sure that Iraq is no longer hiding weapons of mass destruction reported to the Security Council that his inspectors were still being obstructed by Iraqi officials."

It said: "That report should have set off alarm bells in the Security Council and led to tougher measures against Saddam Hussein's regime. It has not, chiefly because China, France and Russia, which all have veto power, and Egypt, which holds a rotating seat on the council, insisted on taking a softer approach than the United States, Britain and eight other council members wanted."

It concluded: "The consequences of Iraqi cheating could one day prove horrifying. An Iraq armed with biological weapons and the missiles to deliver them would once again make Hussein a regional menace. Iraq's defeat in 1991 was supposed to have ended that threat. Time may prove that in fact it did nothing more than temporarily suspend it."

NEW YORK TIMES: Saddam's victory was particularly tasty because it was given to him by four countries that the United States has befriended

Commentator A.M. Rosenthal wrote last week that the United States was responding like a paper pussycat to Saddam's bluster. Rosenthal said: "Mark the date: Saddam Hussein returned to Mideast political glory on 23 October 1997, in a chamber of the United Nations Security Council. He did it by forcing the United States into one of its most humiliating retreats at the UN. Saddam's victory was particularly tasty because it was given to him by four countries that the United States has befriended with blood, treasure, trade or all three. He has shown the Mideast that countries the U.S. had counted on would put his interests above America's, given the right price."

Rosenthal asked mockingly, "Why do these people do these mean things to us, Daddy?" and responded, "France and Russia, like some of our other dear ones, have signed oil deals with Iraq already," adding: "China intends to be signing up Iraqi oil, too. But at the UN it has an immediate intent: to show that America is not all that super a power. It can be conned, betrayed and mugged without a twitch or peep from its own president in public, which is the only place it counts. Beijing was passing on a lesson about the United States it had learned long ago, to its profit and amusement."