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Western Press Review: Iran And Iraq; Yugoslavia; Lieberman

Prague, 8 August 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Western press commentary today touches on a wide range of subjects. Some analysts discuss Iran's difficulties in establishing a free press, while others assess Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's survival in office almost 10 years after he lost a war to a global coalition. There are also comments on Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's political maneuvering, as well as on yesterday's announcement that the U.S. Democratic Party's candidate for president, incumbent Vice President Al Gore, has chosen a centrist senator as his running mate for the November election.


In an editorial, the New York Times says that Sunday's (Aug. 6) prohibition by Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, against revision of the restrictive press laws is a mockery of democratic principles. It says that, by thwarting the elected parliament, Khamenei is inviting "more radical changes to clerical rule in the future."

The editorial goes on: "Three years ago, younger voters, women, urban dwellers and other Iranians fed up with clerical repression helped elect Mohammad Khatami, a moderate cleric, to the presidency. [In February of this year,] after a coalition of pro-Khatami parties won a decisive parliamentary majority in elections, [it] seemed possible that the reformers would be able to pass legislation delivering on their promises of increased personal and political freedom." It adds: "The reformers deliberately chose press freedom as an issue to test their strength within Iran's divided political system."

"For now," the paper says, "the clerics have again prevailed. But the large majority of Iranians who have consistently voted for change have every reason to be angry and frustrated. With less than a year remaining in President Khatami's four-year term," it concludes, "his efforts to change the system appear to be dangerously stalled by a clerical leadership that refuses to respect the will of the Iranian people."


In Germany's Frankfurter Rundschau, Detlef Franke writes this: "The tactics Iranian leader Khamenei has chosen to use against the Iranian parliament and its mostly reform-oriented members can only be called a putsch from above. Nothing," he adds, "has ever been seen in the Islamic republic's 21-year history like the scenes on Sunday in the Majlis, Iran's parliament, when discussions about a more liberal press law were abruptly halted after a letter from Khamenei was read out."

Franke's commentary, like the New York Times editorial, concludes that "the clampdown on parliament means that Khamenei has won this round of the ongoing struggle within Iran's leadership." He also says that President Khatami, "outmaneuvered, must once again ask himself how he should react to this latest salvo."

Franke then argues: "On Sunday, the nation's progressive forces were seen to be powerless as their important step towards reform was nipped in the bud. Khatami has no other choice than to chance a more open conflict with the mullahs than he has dared so far."


Moving to neighboring Iraq, a commentary by Middle Eastern analyst Daniel Pipes in the Los Angeles Times says that the desert war launched by a U.S.-led coalition to liberate Kuwait after Iraq invaded it 10 years ago "has left barely a footprint in the sand." He recalls that "nearly everyone at the time agreed that the Gulf war was a huge event, perhaps an epochal turning point. In retrospect," Pipes argues, "one can only marvel at how little of this came about. Subsequent efforts to impose a new-world-order style solution on crises failed in places like Somalia and Bosnia."

In Iraq itself, the commentary continues, "the regime is far weaker and the central government no longer controls the whole country, but in its essentials -- with Hussein still in power and the borders unchanged -- it remains preposterously unchanged."

Pipes finds "just one major consequence of the war, and it is," he says, "an ironic one. Fearing a repeat of the Iraqi invasion, the other Arabic-speaking states of the Persian Gulf have nestled closer to the United States, permitting troops to be stationed on their territory. [While] this new relationship has benefited both sides, it has also spurred an intense growth in anti-Americanism."

He concludes: "In all, when one recalls how important the war was thought to be, it is astonishing to observe how minor its legacy now appears. At the time, it felt hugely important, and it would have been had [Saddam] Hussein prevailed. But once he survived it, the whole episode left almost everything in its old place, hardly changed."


The Boston Globe places a good part of the blame for Saddam's survival as Iraq's leader on the administration of President George Bush (1989 to 1993), who put together the global coalition that defeated Baghdad in 1991. The paper writes in an editorial: "Bush, [former defense secretary and the Republican Party's current vice-presidential candidate] Dick Cheney, and former chief of staff Colin Powell were the decision-makers responsible for failing to support the popular uprising of Iraqis in March 1991, just after the Gulf War. That revolt," the paper argues, "could have toppled Saddam's Baathist dictatorship if Bush, Cheney and Powell had not permitted [Saddam's] helicopter gun-ships, tanks and heavy armor to move through the airspace and land routes controlled by America's victorious troops."

The paper goes on to urge Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush, the former president's son, and his running mate Dick Cheney "to debate Iraqi policy in the autumn [presidential] campaign. Saddam has benefited too long from schizoid policy-making in Washington," it says. George W. Bush and Cheney, the editorial concludes, "will have to make it plain that they no longer accept the premises of the original [that is, 1991] Republican containment policy [on Iraq]."


There are also some comments today about Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's tactics in assuring his re-election as the country's leader next month. Writing in the Times of London, Balkan analyst Misha Glenny notes that "in spite of the many advantages that Mr. Milosevic enjoys as Serbia prepares to vote, an opinion poll indicates that he is by no means guaranteed victory. The poll," Glenny goes on, "[was] published yesterday in Belgrade by the independent Belgrade Institute of Social Sciences [and] showed 42 percent of Serbs would back Vojislav Kostunica, the joint candidate of most of Serbia's opposition parties, but only 28 percent would back Mr. Milosevic."

Glenny says further: "From the outside, a Milosevic victory has looked a foregone conclusion. Certainly," the commentator acknowledges, "he holds some trump cards. He runs Serbia like a personal fiefdom, including the influential state television, the police and the electoral procedure itself." Glenny adds: "[Milosevic] also seems to have successfully co-opted one very flamboyant opposition leader, Vuk Draskovic, to his cause. Mr. Draskovic has refused to support Mr. Kostunica as presidential candidate and has put up one of his own instead. That is almost certain to split the opposition vote, and independent observers in Belgrade agree that Mr. Milosevic is the only person who will benefit from Mr. Draskovic's decision."

Glenny also says: "In addition, [Montenegrin President Milo] Djukanovic's party has advised Montenegrins not to vote for the Serbian opposition candidate. Mr. Djukanovic has strong ties with the Serbian opposition, but refuses to take part in the presidential elections because he maintains that the decision to hold the vote is unconstitutional. Montenegrins say it was bulldozed [that is, pushed] through parliament in Belgrade without their consent. "


The Danish daily Politiken finds it "shocking that today, more than a year after NATO and the United Nations gained control of Kosovo, Serbs continue to cleanse Kosovo ethnically." But, the paper specifies in an editorial, "this is only the case in the northern reaches of the turbulent province."

The biggest reason for continuing Serbian repression of ethnic Albanians in Kosovo's northeastern area, the editorial says, is "the United Nations resolution for Kosovo that recognizes Yugoslav [meaning Serb] sovereignty over Kosovo -- an assertion that is entirely fictitious." The editorial continues: "The UN resolution was designed to mirror the wishes of Russia and other remote powers that prefer to protect Milosevic's sovereignty rather than the human and political realities in Kosovo. As a result," it says, "the UN has encumbered itself with a short-sighted policy that has no real future."

"This," the Danish paper concludes, "makes it easier for Milosevic to play on nationalist sentiments in Serbian areas bordering on Kosovo. If NATO does not wake up, the situation will get much worse before it starts getting better."

Finally, many U.S. and other Western newspapers assess yesterday's announcement that Democratic Party presidential candidate Al Gore has chosen Connecticut Senator Joseph Lieberman as his running-mate. Lieberman is known as a centrist politician who was highly critical of incumbent Democratic President Bill Clinton when Clinton's dalliance with White House intern Monica Lewinsky was made public. Lieberman also will be the first Jewish American to be nominated for so high a post when the party's convention is held in Los Angeles next week.

Here are some excerpts from the numerous comments on Gore's selection of Lieberman:


Britain's Financial Times: "In asking Lieberman to share his ticket, Mr. Gore selected the Democratic politician most famous for condemning President Clinton for his 'disgraceful behavior' during the Monica Lewinsky affair. Mr. Gore is right to recognize the residual voter resentment over Mr. Clinton's actions and is to be applauded for choosing a running mate of Mr. Lieberman's moral authority. But the question remains whether his campaign is too defensive to compete with that of George W. Bush, the Republican candidate.

"Running mates don't win presidential campaigns. They can add intellectual bulk to a ticket or secure a swinging state. At worst, they can be a fumbling figure of fun. Mr. Lieberman is a sharp campaigner, effortlessly pressing the flesh in small groups. As an Orthodox Jew, the first chosen for the presidential ticket of a major party, his selection is evidence that the United States has become significantly less prejudiced over the past couple of decades."


The U.S. daily Christian Science Monitor: "Al Gore's selection of Lieberman throws a number of new dynamics into the presidential race. First, Mr. Lieberman is a seasoned public servant widely recognized for his integrity, someone prepared to be president should that be necessary. Second, Lieberman will help blunt Republican attempts to tie Gore to the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal. Third, Lieberman's politics are solidly centrist. His presence on the Democratic ticket will intensify the battle for the middle ground of the electorate."


The New York Times: "Gore's [choice of Lieberman] is certainly the most dramatic move he has made in his presidential campaign, and may turn out to be one of the smartest. Lieberman's selection announces a redoubled effort on Gore's part to separate himself from Clinton's personal shortcomings. It also provides him with insulation on the character issue at a time when the Republicans, as Richard Cheney made clear in his speech at [last week's] Philadelphia convention, plan to make an issue of the erosion of presidential dignity during Clinton's eight years in office."


Analyst James Wilson in the Wall Street Journal (U.S. edition): "I have long thought that the only consideration for selecting a vice presidential candidate was that he or she would make a good president. This year, both Mr. Bush and Mr. Gore seemed to agree. Mr. Cheney and Mr. Lieberman are excellent choices: They are both men of high intelligence, great integrity and considerable experience in Washington. A few people will note that Mr. Lieberman is an Orthodox Jew [and] some will wonder whether Mr. Gore is trying to bolster his claim on the Jewish vote. This hardly seems plausible -- Jews will vote Democratic, as they always have. Mr. Bush and Mr. Gore have both done the right thing. They have created a model for how vice presidential selections ought to be made. I hope future presidential nominees will learn their lesson: Pick a candidate who adds, not to your claim on states, but to your belief about the nation."

(Anthony Georgieff in Copenhagen contributed to this report.)