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Western Press Review: Iraq's Future, Russia's Economic Crisis, China's Dissidents

Prague, 24 December 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Western press commentators continue to assess the consequences of last week's U.S.-British air strikes in Iraq. There is also some comment on Russia's economic woes and on Communist China's latest harsh measures against dissidents.

WASHINGTON POST: Washington Responsible For Future Of Iraq

The Washington Post's foreign-affairs columnist, Jim Hoagland, says today that "70 hours of air attacks fix Washington with a heavy responsibility for the future of Iraq and its beleaguered people, in human and political terms." His commentary continues: "America has assumed a deeper obligation to help in Iraq's eventual reconstruction, and to take the actions that make reconstruction possible."

Hoagland goes on: "A Democratic and a Republican president [Bush] have now each conducted warlike campaigns in Iraq that have inflicted unavoidable destruction on a population held captive by a tyrannical psychopath [Saddam Hussein]. To turn away again and let the psychopath continue his depredations would be an unconscionable, bipartisan American failure."

He adds: "The Democrats [in Congress] now have a stake in and responsibility for the war against Saddam that they did not acknowledge before [Operation] Desert Fox [last week]....The fate of Iraq is also too important to be a matter of party divide. If Iraq is important enough to drop bombs on, it is important enough to merit the sustained attention and effort of the legislators who defended and cheered their president's decision to drop those bombs."


The U.S. daily Christian Science Monitor says that "now policy-makers in Washington, London, and at the United Nations have to move on to what President Clinton, at the start of the air attack, called 'a long-term strategy to contain Iraq and its weapons of mass destruction'." That means, the paper writes further, "first, continued military readiness in the Gulf [and] second, the new strategy envisions concerted efforts to pursue a change of government in Baghdad."

The CSM goes on: "This objective has received increased attention in Washington of late.'s an extraordinarily difficult undertaking. Saddam's control of his society is thorough and brutal. He has spies spying on spies, and the penalty for challenging the regime is death. An opposition to Saddam exists, but it is fragmented and operates largely outside the country."

The editorial also says: "Mr. Clinton has promised to work with the Iraqi opposition 'effectively and prudently.' He has Prime Minister [Tony] Blair's partnership in this. But just what's involved remains unclear. If Saddam's opponents can be helped to speak with a more unified voice, even that preliminary step would help. The same goes for efforts to broaden Iraqis' access to news and opinion from sources other than the Saddam-run state media."

FINANCIAL TIMES: UN Must Take New Approach To Iraq

Britain's Financial Times yesterday spoke of "the complex business of reforging an international diplomatic consensus on how to contain Saddam Hussein for the future. Negotiations in the UN Security Council," the paper added in an editorial, "could take weeks. But if the strikes have done all the military damage that U.S. and British generals claim, perhaps it is create a new strategy directed more at preventing future threats from Mr. Saddam than picking over what weapons he might have had in the past."

The FT continued: "The two main protagonists --Iraq and the U.S.-- have thrown away the [the old key to any change for the better in Iraq, the UN weapons inspection program]. Baghdad says the bombing has killed any chance of its re-admitting [UN inspectors]. And even if it did, the U.S. now so distrusts Mr. Saddam that it would probably not countenance a return of [UN inspectors]."

The paper also wrote: "Other Security Council members' positions lie in between these extremes. Russia and China support a lifting of sanctions [against Iraq]....France contends that Mr. Saddam is [no longer] a military threat to its neighbors, but could become so again. So, it says...focus on preventing Iraq from acquiring new weapons [which Baghdad] might accept...if sanctions were also relaxed." The FT concludes: "Whatever the fate of these French ideas, the time for a new approach to Iraq has come."

INFORMATION: Christmas Peace is Illusory

Writing in the Danish daily Information, Carsten Fladelius calls the "cessation of air attacks on Iraq...a Christmas-Ramadan lull before the storm." He writes: "The fact that the bombings stopped in time for Ramadan has had but a marginal effect on the world's Muslims. The only thing that might have disposed them more positively to the U.S. would have been some progress in the Middle East peace process."

"Whether there will be any peace in the Middle East now looks more unsure than ever before,'' concludes Fladelius. "President Clinton tried to do something [in his trip to the area earlier this month] but did not succeed. The Christmas peace is illusory, only a temporary freeze of an explosive problem."

WASHINGTON POST: Russian Economic Crisis Increases Risk Of Nuclear Accident

Turning to Russia, U.S. Secretary of Energy Bill Richardson addresses the nuclear fallout of the country's economic woes in a commentary in the Washington Post He writes: "Russia's financial crisis has brought new urgency to U.S. efforts to help Moscow tighten controls over weapons-grade nuclear materials and expertise. Already, episodes involving unpaid guards and inoperative security equipment have increased the risk of nuclear leakage to rogue states or terrorists."

Richardson goes on: "Our partnership with Russia to meet these growing security challenges has been extraordinary....The Russian financial crisis has made this work more difficult --but also more important, since growing economic turmoil will increase incentives for insiders at nuclear plants to sell material, or their services, outside authorized channels. Our most urgent worry is that the economic blows are affecting facilities' ability to protect and control nuclear materials."

He adds: "We have learned, for example, of guards at some civilian nuclear sites not reporting for work and, in one extraordinary instance, electricity to a nuclear installation being cut off for non-payment of utility bills, which obviously affected electricity-dependent security systems. So far we have no evidence that nuclear materials have been compromised. Nonetheless, these are serious developments..."

LOS ANGELES TIMES: West Preoccupied With Russian Financial Meltdown

In the Los Angeles Times, analyst Alexander Yanov says that the "Western media' preoccupation with Russia's financial meltdown [has served to obscure] important --and troubling-- political trends in Moscow.... One can't help but recall the Western press of the early 1930s, still engrossed in the Weimar Republic's financial agony, on the verge of the Nazi takeover of Germany."

Yanov continues: "Some of the omens ignored by our media include...the extraordinary visit to Russia of Vojislav Seselj, the vice premier of Serbia, as well as his sensational appeal for a Slavic Union of Russia, Yugoslavia and Belarus.... What's really that in the Russian city of Yaroslavl, Seselj's appeal was met with a standing ovation. Missed as well was Belarus President Aleksandr Lukashenka's depiction of Ukraine as a betrayer of the common Slavic cause."

He adds: "The main thing missed...was that Seselj and Lukashenko are politicians [who] must have smelled change in Moscow's political air. Why otherwise would they bother suddenly forging an alliance with Russia's own 'irreconcilables,' the anti-Western nationalists who worked hard for the last seven years trying to provoke a confrontation with the West? It's a fact that, for all their ravings about the Zionist conspiracy deliberately ruining Russia, these gentlemen were until now of limited value to their Serb and Belarus brethren."

AKTUELT: Threats From Russia's Communists Not Credible

Commentator Per Dalgaard writes in the Danish daily Aktuelt today that "Russia has a dilemma in its relationship to the world. It wants to play the role of a great power. But it has to beg for money."

His commentary continues: "The decision [of the Duma] to postpone the ratification of the START-Two treaty is a form of protest against the Anglo-American attack on Iraq. It shows the growing anti-Western feeling traditionally harbored by both Russian Communists and nationalists. This feeling has grown markedly stronger under the government of [Yevgeny] Primakov."

Dalgaard adds: "It is difficult for the Russians to protest against the Americans ...given their constant need of U.S. economic help. So the threats from Russia's Communists --repeated, in a mitigated form, by Russia's President and Government-- do not sound very credible as long as the country continues to stretch out its empty hand in order to have its economy saved."

AFTENPOSTEN: Russian System Is Not Normal

Norway's Aftenposten carries a commentary on U.S.-Russian relations by Kjeld Vibe, a former Norwegian ambassador to Washington. He writes: "For the Clinton Administration to help Yeltsin out of [his economic] predicament has become one of its most challenging foreign-policy priorities. For Washington knows that if things go wrong in Russia, they will go badly wrong."

He also writes: "For many years, Yeltsin has declared his desire to make his fatherland a 'normal country.' But it is difficult to understand what exactly he means by that. Probably he doesn't really consider as normal an unfledged democratic system in which political discourse is based on hatred and lack of compromise and where some high-profile politicians are being murdered by contract killers."

"Nor," concludes Viber, "does the adjective 'normal' apply to a country which is in constant economic crisis, where corruption proliferates, and where some can become extraordinarily rich while others have to wait for months to get their salaries."

Two newspapers today devote editorials to the Chinese Government's most recent repression of dissidents.

NEW YORK TIMES: Crackdown On Dissidents Will Destroy International Respect

The New York Times writes: "Beijing's leaders are running dissidents through a revolving door. This week three leading democracy activists, Xu Wenli, Wang Youcai and Qin Yongmin, were given 11- or 12-year sentences for subversion after sham trials lasting only a few hours each."

The paper goes on: "China has made important economic reforms under President Jiang Zemin. It has also made its legal system somewhat fairer and more predictable, progress that needs continued encouragement.... But then it began its crackdown on democracy groups, imprisoning men like Xu Wenli, who was only trying to hold China to its own laws and the international treaties it had signed."

The NYT concludes: "China's leaders clearly fear that any political opening might imperil Communist Party rule. They should know that China can never achieve the world respect its leaders crave if they block all political expression."

LE MONDE: Crackdown Reveals Weakness

The French daily Le Monde says that "the heavy prison terms that the Beijing regime inflicted on the leaders of China's pro-democracy opposition was mean to be a dazzling show of force. In reality, they constitute an extraordinary avowal of weakness."

The editorial continues: "[In recent days,] Jiang Zemin sought to dissipate any ambiguity over [the Communist Party's monopoly of power] at the celebration of 20th anniversary of the start of the post-Mao [economic] reforms introduced by Deng Xiaping. China, he promised, would remain a regime of Leninist dictatorship 'for 100 years.' He's not the first boss of a Marxist oligarchy to chant this incantation."

Le Monde adds: "The exorbitant sentences [handed down against the dissidents] are aimed at making sure the regime is the sole arbiter of what is democratic in China....They also constitute a slap at those in the West who imagined that Beijing would respond to [Western] concessions with a widening of human rights in the country."