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Western Press Review: Military Roles, Mideast And West's 'Image Problem'

Prague, 7 November 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Commentary in the Western press today considers the debate in Germany's parliament on whether to approve a troop deployment to Afghanistan; debate over an imposed settlement for the Middle East; and the Czech Republic's role in the antiterror campaign. Other analysis centers on Caspian oil development, the domestic impact on Iran of events in Afghanistan, and why the West has a global image problem, among other issues.


In the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung," columnist Gunther Nonnenmacher looks at the debate taking place in the Bundestag, or German parliament, over whether to approve German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's decision yesterday to send 3,900 troops to Afghanistan. Nonnenmacher notes that the deployment has broad support even from opposition parties within the Bundestag, and says this support "is logical, particularly since the parliament declared its solidarity with the United States after the 11 September terrorist attacks and voted by a large majority in favor of invoking Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's statutes." Article 5 states that an attack on one NATO member is considered an attack on the entire alliance.

Nonnenmacher says that Germany's military commitment to Afghanistan is natural, but "does not render [Germany's] national sovereignty obsolete." He advises that the government "would be well-advised to keep the party and parliamentary group leaders well-informed. [Even] if the Bundestag does give the government a free hand to plan concrete military deployments for a year, it can revisit the issue on grounds of principle at any time."


Syndicated columnist William Pfaff writes in the "Los Angeles Times" that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict needs a settlement imposed by the international community. He notes that Shlomo Ben-Ami, foreign minister under former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, is appealing for international intervention to replace "failed and discredited direct negotiations." Pfaff cites Ben-Ami as saying that no trust remains on either side of the conflict and that it is now clear that an agreement freely reached between the parties is not possible. Pfaff writes that Ben-Ami has called for "an international intervention, organized by the United States, supported by Europe, Russia and 'key Arab states,' to dictate terms for a settlement, and only the details of application left to Israelis and Palestinians." Pfaff says that such an intervention "would have to be backed by the credible threat of terminated political support and financial aid for either side refusing these terms."

The terms of such a settlement, Pfaff writes, would be "an independent and autonomous Palestinian state, territorial swaps that settle the colonization issue, a 'practical' solution of the refugee problem -- meaning strictly controlled terms of refugee return -- 'two capitals in Jerusalem' and a guaranteed and internationally supervised end to conflict."

Pfaff says there is reason to believe that majorities on both sides would accept such an arrangement. The war against terrorism, he adds, "may not be winnable without a Palestinian settlement."


In Germany's "Handelsblatt," Joachim Weidemann examines the Czech Republic's role in the fight against terrorism as a new NATO member. Weidemann writes that initially, it was questionable what the new members -- Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic -- would contribute to NATO. Now it appears that the Czechs, in particular, can provide "valuable knowledge" and moreover, he says, are setting a good example.

Prague is sending an elite anti-chemical weapons unit to undertake a dangerous mission. Their experience in chemical warfare was derived from earlier days: In 1991, the Czechs were on the U.S. side fighting the Gulf War, but actually assisting Saudi Arabia. The Czech affinity for the Arab world has a tradition predating 1989, when it sided with rogue states Iraq, Syria, and Libya. But this is not the only reason why the Czechs might have a guilty conscience, says Weidemann. The Czechs produce Semtex plastic explosives; the Tamara radar system, which is capable of spotting state-of-the-art U.S. fighter jets, is also of Czech origin.

Weidemann says the NATO summit due to convene in Prague next year will show whether the new NATO members have matured enough to accept their new responsibilities, or whether, as was originally suspected, there is still need for reform.


A "Stratfor" analysis says the U.S.-led military campaign in Afghanistan has reignited Iran's internal struggle between conservative and reformist forces. "Stratfor" says that, unexpectedly, the U.S. campaign appears to be igniting pro-Western challenges to the Iranian regime. In response to this unrest, conservatives have stepped up efforts to rein in the pro-Western movement and may end up adopting an even more hard-line position.

The debate in Iran over how to react officially to the U.S. campaign in Afghanistan is also intensifying the dispute over whether to normalize relations with Washington, says "Stratfor." On one side, reformist President Mohammad Khatami argues that Iran's economic isolation threatens national stability and security. Some level of political and social reform is necessary to end sanctions and secure the stability of the regime.

In contrast, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei argues that compromise would undermine the very legitimacy of the clerical regime and that rapprochement with the U.S. would lead to the regime's downfall.

"Stratfor" concludes that as Iran's leaders focus on curbing opposition and unrest, "they will only be more reluctant to cooperate in any way" with the United States in Afghanistan or in general. "Stratfor" says that, "Paradoxically, the conflict in Afghanistan should logically drive the United States and Iran together -- but that potential is too destabilizing and will instead tend to drive the countries apart."


In "The Washington Post," Sebastian Mallaby looks at why the West has an "image problem." Mallaby writes: "Some $2.8 billion people subsist on less than two dollars a day. The rich world preaches that if they work hard they will climb out of poverty. But then it imposes its highest import taxes on precisely those industries in which most of the poor work -- farming and low-tech manufacturing [such as textiles]. So the average worker in the poor world faces tariffs roughly twice as high as the average worker in rich countries, according to the World Bank," writes Mallaby.

Mallaby cites World Bank figures stating that taxpayer support for farmers in rich countries "is six times larger than all development assistance to poor countries." In addition, the West's intellectual property and patent system makes many technologies and medicines unavailable to the poor. Mallaby says that the West "[appeases] protectionists at the expense of the world's poor, and then we wonder why globalization and American power are so widely resented."

The World Trade Organization summit opening on 9 October in Qatar may be able to redress some of these gross inequalities, says Mallaby. A new round of trade negotiations may be launched, and agriculture and textiles will be on the agenda.

"It is hard to overstate the importance of success at this summit," he writes.


In "The Wall Street Journal Europe," Caspian affairs analyst Brenda Shaffer looks at the likelihood of Azerbaijan becoming a major Caspian oil producer.

"Diversity of sources is one of the most important factors in energy security," she writes. "Flows of large volumes of Caspian oil through non-OPEC countries would erode the power of OPEC, as well as its ability to maintain high oil prices and to use oil as a mode of political blackmail."

But one issue, she says, continues to undermine this option, stemming from Azerbaijan's conflict with Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh. The U.S. Congress levied sanctions on Baku in 1992, barring cooperation in many fields. Despite this, Baku has cooperated with the U.S. on a number of issues, notes Shaffer. But the U.S. has renewed the sanctions, only last week granting a temporary waiver for Baku's cooperation in the anti-terrorism campaign.

Shaffer writes: "While this [waiver] is a step in the right direction, voices in Azerbaijan are expressing disappointment that while this interim waiver will allow the U.S. to use its bases and airspace, Azerbaijan is still among the group of pariah states, including Iran, Iraq and Cuba, that have U.S. sanctions placed on them. Azerbaijan also finds it ironic that it is the target of Iranian and Islamist extremist destabilization due to its pro-American policies, even as Washington keeps its sanctions."


In France's daily "Liberation," Patrick Sabatier says that both the Taliban's capacity for resistance and the difficulty of balancing the opinions of key allies are obstacles that are piling up in the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan.

One month after the beginning of operations in Afghanistan, observers note that chief terror suspect Osama bin Laden has not been apprehended, nor has the Taliban regime been replaced. American war strategy and its resulting civilian victims is easily seen as a "war of cowards," says Sabatier, "a confession of impotence by a Goliath put in check by a David." But this view forgets that war has never been an exact science, he says, or that the strikes are preliminary -- necessary for the ground operations that must be led to finish off bin Laden and the Taliban.

This is an inevitable path, he says. "To continue the fight on the ground is the only way for the U.S. to respond [to those who] call for a stop to the bombing [as well as] to prove that they are resolved to win the war that [was] declared, rather than taking revenge blindly." This will take time, Sabatier concludes.

(RFE/RL's Dora Slaba contributed to this Press Review.)