Prague, 16 February 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Western press commentary today focuses on an escalating Persian Gulf crisis following threats by Iraq to attack airbases in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Turkey. The on-going Kosovo peace talks near Paris also are a key topic in today's editorial columns.
WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE: Russia can no longer be trusted
An editorial (unsigned) in today's Wall Street Journal Europe criticizes Moscow after an unverified report in the British press suggested Russia plans to sell arms to Iraq in violation of a United Nations embargo. The editorial notes the deterioration of Moscow's credibility since revelations that the Central Bank may have hidden as much as $50 billion using an offshore firm. The editorial says: "It's hard to fathom a legitimate reason (for use of the off-shore company.) The official explanation, in short, is found badly wanting."
The Wall Street Journal editorial continues: "It's not hard to see why the report [on an arms deal with Iraq] appears at least plausible. It is to be hoped that the Foreign Ministry's denials are sincere. So flagrant a violation of Russia's Security Council commitments would indeed be a grave matter, suggesting that Russia's word could no longer be trusted in any sphere." The paper continues: "But the very plausibility of the claim speaks to the depleted reservoir of trust Russia has in the international community; it has long lost the trust of its own people. That credibility gap requires that the West, now more than ever, take Russian demands --whether for more IMF money or a new policy toward Iraq-- with a large dose of skepticism."
INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE: American policy is currently out of control
Columnist William Pfaff writes an opinion piece in today's International Herald Tribune blaming American foreign policy for crises in the Middle East. Pfaff says: "The United States is held to exercise global power for the sake of international stability, yet its global presence, of itself, causes instability. The continued bombing of Iraq and attempt to overthrow its government, the stationing of American forces in the same country as Islam's holy places, muted interference in the internal politics of the Saudi and other Arab governments, the attempt to prosecute a region-wide war against an Islamic fundamentalism that Washington scarcely understands, and, of course, virtually unqualified support for Israel -- all this has destabilizing effects. The result in Saudi Arabia could prove to be the same one that resulted from the identical U.S. policy pursued 20 years ago in the Shah's Iran." Pfaff concludes that "the global expansion of American power has unexpectedly become an obstacle to the success of American foreign policy." He says: "American policy is currently out of control. It is made by inertia or momentum."
GUARDIAN: The use of Turkish launching pads has become a sensitive election issue
A news analysis piece by Chris Morris and Julian Borger in today's edition of The Guardian notes the symbolic timing of the latest American air strikes against Iraqi air defenses. The authors write: "Yesterday's sorties into northern Iraq -- launched by U.S. jets stationed at the Turkish air base at Incirlik -- coincided with a visit to Ankara by the Iraqi deputy prime minister Tariq Aziz. Mr. Aziz had made the journey as part of an attempt to press Iraq's neighbors to stop providing the launching pads for the constant U.S. and British aerial patrols over Iraqi territory. But he appeared to have received a polite rebuff." The authors go on to note that "The use of the Incirlik base in southern Turkey has become a sensitive issue in the Turkish election campaign, as have the estimated $30 billion losses from international sanctions on Iraq."
FINANCIAL TIMES: Turkish officials are worried in the event of a power vacuum in Baghdad
Leyle Boulton, writing in today's Financial Times of London also notes that Ankara's domestic concerns bring an added dimension to the Iraqi crisis. Boulton says: "Turkish officials are worried that if there were a power vacuum in Baghdad, Kurds in northern Iraq could achieve a separate state. That in turn could lead to pressure for Turkish land to be annexed to such a state, but western officials see these concerns as far-fetched. Still, few dispute Turkey's claims that it has lost $30 billion in pipeline revenues since the UN imposed sanctions on exports of oil from Iraq, previously Turkey's second-largest trading partner."
SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: Saddam's latest threats are pure rhetoric
An editorial (unsigned) in today's edition of the German newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung says Iraqi ruler Saddam Hussein's latest threats against his neighbors are "empty." The editorial says: "Saddam Hussein probably does not know the German proverb 'Many enemies, much honor.' Yet he is acting precisely according to it. His latest threat to get even with Kuwait and Saudi Arabia if they continue to set their airfields at the disposal of U.S. and British attack planes is pure rhetoric. However it may appear, Iraq does not have the means for another armed conflict. Saddam's bravado is no more than an attempt to gain from popular discontent in Saudi Arabia over the Kingdom's subservient role to the United States. These threats will have no effect. The Saudis should recall how defenseless they are (without western military support). In Kuwait there is no need for a reminder. The current crisis all began with Iraq's invasion of Kuwait. Saddam won't find secret allies there."
INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE: The deadline for agreement seems unrealistic
Western journalists today also are focusing opinion columns and news analysis on the on-going Kosovo peace talks near Paris.
Charles Trueheart writes a news analysis on the peace talks published in today's International Herald Tribune. In it, Trueheart notes that "Hours after the international community openly charged Serbian negotiators with obstructing a peace settlement with Kosovo secessionists, the President of Serbia amplified Yugoslavia's refusal to allow foreign troops on its soil and revealed a raft of new objections to political autonomy" for Kosovo. Trueheart says: "Judging from the stiffening position of the Serbian side, [Saturday's deadline for an agreement] appears increasingly unrealistic, unless, as a Western diplomat speculated, it is a deliberate rhetorical prelude to serious compromise by Serbia on the force to be led by NATO."
BASLER ZEITUNG: Milosevic only has two alternatives
The Swiss newspaper Basler Zeitung publishes an unsigned editorial today warning that this week's talks could be "the last chance for the Serbs." The editorial says: "For Yugoslavia, talks concerning an autonomy agreement are perhaps the last chance to maintain at least a small portion of sovereignty in the Province. If Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosovic were a rational politician he would give his assent to the agreement. But in Belgrade, they do not want to hear about NATO troops that would safeguard an agreement. Nevertheless, Milosevic only has two alternatives: He can "invite" NATO troops to assert a peace settlement, or he has to count on the western military alliance taking serious action by bombing targets in Yugoslavia. In such a case he would have to consent to an agreement under even more unfavorable conditions."
LE MONDE: All could be decided at the last minute
Claire Trean writes an opinion column in the French newspaper Le Monde today that also is critical of Serb negotiators at the peace talks. Trean says: "All the tensions - between Russians and westerners, between Americans and Europeans, between French and French - would disappear faster if Serbs and ethnic-Albanians decide to find a common ground for understanding. That day seems far away, but all could be decided at the last minute. At least, the ethnic-Albanian delegation plays the game of the negotiations. It does not put forward its internal divisions. It forms working groups and takes the effort to formulate in writing its amendments to the texts proposed to them. The Serbian side only expresses its opinions orally. The only claim that the Serbs have, up to now, expressed in writing was that they wanted a piano installed at the castle. The answer was no."