Prague, 5 March 1998 (RFE/RL) -- A week after UN Secretary General Kofi Annan's diplomacy defused -- at least temporarily -- war alarms over Iraqi blocking of international weapons inspections, Western press commentary is taking second looks in increasingly minute detail. Verdicts range from the continuing "cat and mouse game" (Sueddeutsche Zeitung) to "Kofi Annan's Triumph" (The Christian Science Monitor).
SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: The game goes on
In the Sueddeutsche Zeitung, Josef Joffe commented yesterday that nothing really has changed. Joffe wrote: 'After Kofi Annan's Baghdad mission the never-ending Saddam drama, now into its ninth year, is back to its usual routine. The only change is that the cat's game with all those mice has grown even more predictable.'
He concluded: "The game goes on, and anyone who imagined that Saddam might at long last have seen the light has been misled. Consequently, the United States is continuing to try and forge a broad alliance against Iraq, and, consequently, (U.S.) Secretary of State Madeleine Albright is visiting America's most important allies -- including Germany -- this week. The moral is simple. If Beijing, Moscow and Paris continue to play half on Saddam's side, the Iraqi dictator will continue to score points. And the threat of war will not have been dispelled."
CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR: Annan's approach shows the indigenous African values of consensus-building and face-saving
Francis Mading Deng, a senior fellow in foreign policy studies at the Brookings Institution in Washington and a special representative to the UN secretary general, says in The Christian Science Monitor that what he calls "Annan's triumph" has "lifted the minds and hearts of peace-loving people around the world." Deng says he takes special pride as a fellow African. He writes: "It would be a mistake to attribute the diplomatic skills behind his achievement to any one culture or region. But as an African who has closely observed conflict-resolution methods in many contexts, I cannot help but see underlying Annan's approach the indigenous African values of consensus-building and face-saving."
Deng's commentary treats the entire question as a political one between competing power interests. He writes: "Surprising as it may seem at first glance, both Saddam Hussein and President Clinton needed face-saving devices. (Saddam) needed a way of backing down with some dignity and national pride. The case of President Clinton, though less obvious, was equally compelling. (He) must have realized that war could be a source of serious divisions at home and abroad. But he had gone too far to back down. In that sense, he, too, needed face-saving."
L'HUMANITE: Explicit reference to the legitimacy of the UN is not, of course, to Washington's taste
The French communist newspaper L'Humanite notes pointedly in an editorial today that the UN has reserved final judgment for itself. It says: "The essential element of the UN resolution is found in the last paragraph of the document, which says the it is the UN Security Council which will, according to its responsibilities laid out in the UN Charter (itself) guarantee the application of this resolution and guarantee peace and security in the region. This explicit reference (to the) legitimacy of the UN is not, of course, to Washington's taste."
LE SOIR: Nothing forbids a country to take unilateral action to defend its national interests
But Belgium's Le Soir points to a different view. It says editorially: "Bill Richardson, American ambassador to the UN, however, claims victory. If Iraq violates the agreement, the Clinton administration will not ask the Security Council's opinion. (The) American armada in the Persian Gulf may attack without appeal. Nothing forbids it, says Richardson, citing the doctrine that a country is authorized to take unilateral action to defend its national interests."
DAILY TELEGRAPH: It is important that those who realize what is at stake do not lose heart
"As we learn the full details of the UN agreement with Iraq, it is becoming painfully obvious that the deal is a victory for Saddam Hussein," London's The Daily Telegraph asserts editorially today. The newspaper concludes: "Worn down by his tenacious scheming, the world community has compromised its efforts to stem the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Iraq is a test case -- if only because Saddam Hussein already has demonstrated his willingness to use such weapons. So it is important, now, that those who realize what is at stake do not lose heart -- and vital that the all but recognized drift towards defeat is first halted, then reversed."
SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: The French are determined to be mischievous
However the central crisis itself plays out, the Iraq-UN standoff will leave a variety of other repercussions, commentators and analysts in the West are writing. Kurt Kister says in today's Suddeutsche Zeitung that France is pursuing a special agenda. Kister writes: "The Iraq crisis continues to have negative political consequences. One is a renewed deterioration in the already tense relations between France, on the one side, and the United States and Britain on the other."
He says: "NATO's governing body, the North Atlantic Council, wanted to pass a resolution of a very routine nature: on the agenda was a joint declaration warning Iraq that it would face 'grave consequences' if it violated the arms inspection agreement brokered last week by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and subsequently approved by the Security Council. Indeed, the NATO resolution used the very wording of the Security Council, of which France is a permanent member. France's ambassador to NATO signaled his country's approval of the North Atlantic Council declaration, but was quickly overruled by his superiors in Paris."
Kister says: "The French are determined to be mischievous, to remain the outsider. As long as multilateral foreign and security polices do not bear the French stamp, Paris wants nothing to do with them."
FINANCIAL TIMES: The stage is set for an early test of the agreement
Staff writers Laura Silber in New York and David Buchan in London wrote in an analysis in yesterday's Financial Times that "The stage was set (Tuesday) for an early test -- within a week -- of Iraq's agreement with the United Nations on weapons inspection, enshrined in a new Security Council resolution threatening 'severest consequences' for any breach of the agreement. With US and British forces still within striking distance of Iraq, Tariq Aziz, the country's deputy prime minister, said Baghdad would live up to the agreement which he emphasized had been signed with Kofi Annan, the UN secretary general, not with the Security Council. (But) Bill Richardson, US ambassador to the UN, made clear the agreement 'did not preclude the unilateral use of force'. (And) In between these positions, Britain took a nuanced position, hailing the resolution that it had co-sponsored with Japan, but not ruling out further recourse to the Security Council if political circumstances warranted."
They wrote: "Unscom officials expect to come under pressure to put the inspection agreement to the test while U.S. and British forces remain deployed in full strength in the Gulf region. (Tuesday) the British Foreign Office predicted that 'over the next week the inspectors will get back to work in Iraq'."