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The East: Reactions To Iraq Strikes Mixed

By RFE/RL Staff Reporters And Analysts

Prague, 18 December 1998 (RFE/RL) - The governments of Central and Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union are expressing a variety of reactions to the U.S.-led airstrikes against Iraq, which began earlier this week.

Those governments most eager to join western institutions have largely been supportive, while many governments with close ties to Russia are joining in Moscow's critical reaction. Governments eager to maintain good relations with both Moscow and the West have mostly steered a middle course.

In Armenia, the airstrikes prompted an angry demonstration today by about 40 people near the U.S. embassy in Yerevan.

The official Armenian government response was also critical. Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian told journalists yesterday (Dec. 17) that the U.S. and British air strikes on Iraq, in his words, "are causing serious concerns to the Armenian government." Oskanian went on to say: "We hope that the bombardment will be halted very quickly and the problem will be solved by diplomatic means...." He added that "Judging from the reaction of other states, [the strikes] were not agreed upon by, and coordinated with, the other members of the [United Nations] Security Council."

In Tbilisi, Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze took a more neutral tone. He called for an immediate meeting of the UN Security Council, in his phrase, "to ensure the unconditional fulfillment of its resolutions" which, he said, no country has the right to ignore. Shevardnadze also said that events in Georgia's breakaway region of Abkhazia testify to what he described as the "tragic consequences" of non-fulfillment of UN Security Council resolutions.

On a visit to Moscow yesterday, Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka condemned the U.S. and British air strikes against Iraq as what he called "bandit actions" that would never have happened if the Soviet Union still existed. After talks with Russian President Boris Yeltsin, Lukashenka said "We have never been so powerless as we are today in opposing such actions." He added that the U.S is behaving "like the master of the house, and a bad master at that."

In Estonia, President Lennart Meri yesterday described the U.S.-British attacks against Iraq as "an inevitable step," while the Estonian Foreign Ministry said it considers the strikes justified.

The Latvian Foreign Ministry said, in its words, that it "understands the United States and Britain's actions, because Iraq was warned on several previous occasions and had every chance to avoid military strikes."

Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus said he resolutely supported the strikes, while the Vilnius government termed them "inevitable active deterrents."

There are a variety of views among the five Central Asian states. The Tajik government has yet to release an official statement, but Radio Tajikistan yesterday called the raids an "arbitrary and provocative operation [taken] in the name of the UN but without the UN's official permission."

Also yesterday, Kazakhstan's Foreign Ministry issued a statement expressing "deep regret and concern," and called for a special session of the UN Security Council. While the statement noted what it called the "disregard of the opinion of the overwhelming majority of the international community," it also mentioned "the need for full Iraqi observation of its commitments."

That nuanced view was shared by Kyrgyzstan, with the exception of the country's Muftis, who roundly condemned the attack, noting that it began just before Ramadan.

Uzbek President Islam Karimov said today that "what occurred in the Persian Gulf was to be expected." Karimov said it was "a pity" the action was done without a UN sanction. But he asked why Iraq was thwarting UN weapons inspections if it had nothing to hide. In Karimov's words, "what are they afraid of? Open all the laboratories, all the storage areas and all the briefcases and show the UN nothing is there."

Throughout Central and Eastern Europe, most governments have strongly backed the U.S. and British use of force.

A spokesman for Vaclav Havel said yesterday the Czech President "understands the reasons" why the U.S. and Britain had "decided on military intervention." Havel was said also to share the opinion that, despite its previous commitments, Iraq has repeatedly refused to fully cooperate with UN inspectors.

Slovak Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan said that the government in Bratislava "agrees with the hard measures [taken to] prevent Iraq from building nuclear, biological and chemical facilities." Kukan also said measures are being taken to evacuate Slovak diplomats from Baghdad. Reading from a ministry statement, he placed the blame for the developments wholely on Baghdad.

"We expressed regret that the intransigence and stubbornness of the Iraqi leadership caused that such a harsh action had to be taken once all diplomatic options had been exhausted," he said.

Hungarian Foreign Ministry spokesman Gabor Horvath said the strike was the result of Iraq's "lack of cooperation" with the international community and Hungary, he said, "understood the necessity" for the action.

Romanian President Emil Constantinescu said his country regrets the use of force but understands that, in his phrase, "no other solution was possible under the circumstances." He also said he had ordered the Foreign Ministry to evacuate women and children from the Romanian embassy in Baghdad.

Bulgarian Foreign Minister Nadezhda Mihailova said her country "is anxiously following events in Iraq," and that Baghdad "has still not fulfilled" the UN Security Council resolutions supported by the entire international community. She also said that Sofia is "waiting for a speedy solution" to the crisis and for "a suspension of military operations." The Bulgarian charge d'affaires in Jordan told Radio Sofia that the embassy in Baghdad is preparing for the possible evacuation of its citizens in Iraq.

Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski said yesterday that what he called "serious circumstances" forced the U.S.-British action. Commenting on the air attacks on Iraq, he said that "there are threats that require appropriate measures." The Polish Foreign Ministry said in a statement that the U.S. and Britain have taken "firm measures to keep world peace."

(Several Newsline writers contributed to this report.)