Prague, 24 February 1998(RFE/RL) -- Western press commentary, not surprisingly, focuses on Iraq in the aftermath of the deal signed by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz. Opinions are sharply split. Some see the agreement as a victory for reason. Others see it as an easy, temporary solution that has echoes of Neville Chamberlain's "peace in our time."
BOSTON GLOBE: Everyone can claim victory in the Iraq agreement
David Marcus, in a commentary in today's Boston Globe perhaps sums it up best when he says: "The agreement reached between UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and Saddam Hussein is most notable for what the different parties do not have to endure. Hussein does not have to face a storm of tomahawk missiles and 'bunker buster' bombs. President Clinton does not have to face the specter of U.S. troops coming home in body bags. Arab leaders do not have to live with a war in their backyard. The divided leaders of the United Nations, including the Russians, the Chinese and the French, all avoid exacerbating their fraying relations with the United States over the Iraq situation. In short, everyone can claim victory in the Iraq agreement, at least for now."
GUARDIAN: The agreement reached in Baghdad is a significant achievement
Britain's Guardian concurs, writing: "The agreement reached in Baghdad by the UN Secretary General Kofi Annan is a significant achievement...If accepted by the Security Council it will have prevented a war whose consequences were dangerously unpredictable, yet it will have done so without conceding peace at any price. ..It is a tribute to Mr Annan, and an important boost to the organization which he represents, that this has been realized through his efforts." The Guardian concedes that Saddam also emerges a winner from the agreement, and it acknowledges that "this may seem an unjust outcome for a thuggish dictator with no redeeming features." But the paper notes that "success in negotiations does not imply moral approbation."
IRISH TIMES: The agreement will strengthen the Security Council's collegiate nature
The Irish Times says the outcome of the agreement "will strengthen the Security Council's collegiate nature, making it less possible for its most powerful and determined member, the United States, to act unilaterally according to a simple calculus of its own national interest. This marks decided progress for the world body, under Mr Annan's executive leadership."
EL MUNDO: A diplomatic way out of the crisis benefits everyone
But Spain's El Mundo writes: "A diplomatic way out of the crisis benefits everyone, and especially the White House. The political price for an attack with unclear goals was very high, with public opinion divided in the U.S. and among Arab allies with no love for each other. Annan's compromise is like a thermometer with which to gauge Saddam Hussein's willingness to live up to the agreement. The General Secretary deserves credit for leading the crisis out of a blind alley."
LIBERATION: Secretary General's choice of plane is 'symbolique' of the role played by France
France's Liberation gives kudos to Annan, but saves special praise for the French role in resolving the crisis, noting: "It is on board the presidential Falcon (jet) that Kofi Annan returned to Paris last night before returning to New York this morning on board the Concorde to face the UN Security Council. More than a logistical aid, the Secretary General's choice of plane is 'symbolique' of the role played by France in the apparently honorable resolution of this crisis."
LIBERATION: Without Clinton's threats, the compromise would have been practically impossible
In another editorial, the paper grudgingly acknowledges that "without the deployment of American forces in the Gulf and without Clinton's threats, the compromise would have been practically impossible." But it adds, "that is not the important thing: the principal winner of this crisis is an African diplomat elected a year ago amid almost total general skepticism."
Commentaries in several other dailies, especially in Germany, Austria and Switzerland are more skeptical, if not downright cynical, and most caution against any smug back-slapping.
SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: Not even the biggest optimists can believe that the agreement will bring a long-term solution
Kurt Kister, in today's Sueddeutsche Zeitung, writes: "Not even the biggest optimists can believe that the agreement between Kofi Annan and Saddam Hussein will bring a long term solution to the problem. Although the details of the agreement are unknown so far, Saddam has done nothing else at the last minute except making a promise once more to adhere to the UN resolution. Conclusion: He who believes that Annan's success lies alone in that a war has been averted is very much mistaken. One doesn't have to search hard for analogies, although we can certainly remember Neville Chamberlain in 1938 with his pronouncement "Peace in our time" when he came back from Munich."
WALL STREET JOURNAL: European analyses misunderstood the forces at play
Frederick Kempe, in a commentary in The Wall Street Journal Europe, assails Europeans who praise Annan while begrudging America's role in the crisis. He writes: "It's hard to decide which was more frightening on Monday morning's European breakfast programs - the news that Saddam Hussein, after years of duping the international community, appears to have done so one more time or the ubiquitous European analyses that so misunderstood this fact and the forces at play....If Saddam has sued for peace, it was essentially because he has been left without a choice...He is, after all, facing three American aircraft carriers...But that sort of analysis was nowhere to be found on the Monday morning shows. Kofi Annan's success - if it really turns out to be that, and skepticism is only prudent - was only possible because he had leverage...If a European leader doesn't stand up this week and tell his people this fact, then the current crisis will only reinforce dangerous European thinking that force is not a necessary component of diplomacy, or peace for that matter."
Kempe also closes his commentary by harking back to past conflicts, as far back as World War II: "European leaders might want to tip their hat to America amid the cheers for Kofi Annan. Perhaps they should explain to their citizenry that without America's might and willingness to use it, the world wouldn't be a happier place. Bosnia, Kuwait, and, for that matter, Germany itself, might look a lot different."
DIE PRESSE: The next conflict between Iraq and the USA can already be scheduled
Austria's Die Presse, is equally unmoved by Saddam's promises, writing from Vienna: "Iraq has so often in the past years used tricks and ruses to avoid UN inspectors and conceal its arms production that it can hardly grieve over this settlement. Only if Saddam Hussein had submitted unconditionally to the inspections teams would this be a partial victory. Partial for this reason: a promise today from Saddam Hussein does not rule out more games tomorrow, as experiences of the past compel us to remember. The remark by Vice-Premier Tarqi Aziz during the signing of the agreement, that if only sanctions against Iraq were to vanish, shows that the next conflict between Iraq and the USA can already be scheduled."
TAGES-ANZEIGER: Three questions remain
Switzerland's Tages-Anzeiger writes in a similar vein from Zurich: "UN Secretary General Kofi Annan announces an agreement: Iraq will bind itself - on honorable Saddam Hussein's honored word! - to pay attention to resolutions its government agreed to in the past. The world applauds, with no misgivings about the compromise Kofi Annan has reached. Three questions remain: When will the dictator next trump the UN? Who will be Saddam's next victims? And who will oppose him next time, since this time the U.S. alliance was almost all alone?"