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Western Press Review: Iraq Agreement Continues To Stir Controversy

By Jeremy Bransten, Dora Slaba and Esther Pan

Prague, 26 February 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Iraq continues to dominate international commentary in the Western press.

NEW YORK TIMES: Some provisions require close watching

The New York Times, in an editorial today, writes: "Now that the full text of Secretary-General Kofi Annan's agreement with Saddam Hussein has been published, it is clear that some provisions require close watching to prevent a weakening of weapons inspections." The paper further warns: "It is imperative that the deal not undercut the position of chief inspector Richard Butler and the technical experts working for him. Cosmetic concessions to Iraqi pride are fine, but Butler and his crew must remain firmly in control of all inspections and free to judge whether Iraq is complying with its newly reinforced commitments."

WASHINGTON POST: Stout principles have fallen by the wayside

The Washington Post, in a commentary entitled 'Reversing Course on Iraq', criticizes the Clinton administration for backing away from its original demands: "Until recently, the Clinton administration firmly believed that Saddam Hussein should have no say in the composition of inspection teams searching for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Just as firmly, the U.S. government insisted that the inspectors should be independent and should report only, and directly, to the Security Council. Yet in the agreement reached between Kofi Annan and Saddam Hussein, it now emerges, both those stout principles have fallen by the wayside."

The paper adds that Annan's role is "troubling, not because anyone questions his integrity but because he has now invested so much in this agreement; can he be arbiter and prosecutor at once?" the Post asks. In the end, the paper notes, Annan cannot be blamed for the deal, however flawed it may be, noting that it is the result of a defective U.S. policy: "Kofi Annan is not responsible for the shortcomings of the agreement; he went to Baghdad and did what the United Nations asked. The United States threatened force but seemed not to want to use it. It likened Saddam Hussein to Hitler but wasn't prepared to deal with him as a Hitler must be dealt with. The United States said it would negotiate, but it sent Mr. Annan to negotiate, and that's exactly what he did."

L'HUMANITE: Americans were unable to dictate their law to the international community

In much of Europe, and especially France, where the accord is generally viewed as a triumph, commentaries couldn't be more different. France's L'Humanite notes that "For the first time since the end of the Cold War, the Americans were unable to dictate their law to the international community." The paper says the accord must pave the way to opening "a new stage in relations between the world and the Iraqi people, who have suffered too much." It also says the ascendance of UN diplomacy should lead to the implementation of all Security Council resolutions, especially those concerning Israel and the occupied territories.

LES ECHOS: The Baghdad accord has once again placed the UN at the heart of diplomatic activity

Another French paper, Les Echos, agrees that the latest agreement with Baghdad strengthens the overall hand of the UN, writing: "The Baghdad accord has once again placed the UN at the heart of diplomatic activity and illustrated a certain isolation of the United States, which must now struggle to pick up the initiative in the Middle East."

LIBERATION: Each EU member sang his solo

But Liberation cautions that this UN triumph masks a European failure: "In the Iraq crisis, the fifteen members of the European Union once again played their individual roles in the theater of their unintegrated foreign policy. Each one sang his solo, with no regard for harmony."

LE FIGARO: Europe did not appear to step together

The Paris-based Le Figaro concurs, writing: "Where was Europe in all this? Europe, overall, did not appear to step together. Chirac and Vedrine did their best. Germany absented itself this time, which was regrettable."

IRISH TIMES: The U.S. owes a debt of gratitude to Annan

Meanwhile, The Irish Times says the U.S. owes a debt of gratitude to Annan and it adds that "Mr Annan is entitled now to have the US pay up its accumulated arrears to the world body."

EL PAIS: The objective of Americans is to get a hand on Iraqi oil

Lastly, K.S. Karol, in Spain's El Pais, muses on how the latest Iraq crisis has affected U.S.-Russian relations: "Washington is not waiting for Russia to rejoin the highest levels of the international scene. Persuaded that his 'friend Boris' was making nothing more than a gesture without importance, Bill Clinton said disparagingly: 'Niet does not necessarily mean no.' Many in Russia remember a time when 'niet' clearly meant no, and Washington paid attention. At the cost of their cordial relationship, the American president loosed an avalanche of articles and TV programs hostile to his Iraq policy. They insisted on the importance of Russia's 'vital interests' in Iraq. Saddam Hussein owes Russia more than $8 billion and is at the point of confirming huge contracts with the giants of Russian oil, Gazprom and Lukoil, to exploit Iraq's gas and petroleum resources. Nothing more is necessary to come to the conclusion that the objective of Americans is to get a hand on this oil."