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Western Press Review: The New EP President, Georgia, Central Asia, And Trans-Atlantic Trade

Prague, 16 January 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Western media commentary today covers a variety of issues. The election on 15 January of Pat Cox as the new president of the European Parliament is the subject of some speculation, as is the future of Cyprus, as Turkish and Greek leaders meet to discuss their differences over the divided island. Other topics include troubles in Georgia's Pankisi Gorge, what U.S. energy interests in Central Asia will mean for the region, trans-Atlantic trade tensions, and the ongoing U.S.-led campaign in Afghanistan.


In the German "Sueddeutsche Zeitung," columnist Cornelia Bolesch praises the election yesterday of Irish Liberal Pat Cox as president of the European Parliament. Bolesch says the parliament has little power, but does have the right to speak out. In deciding on Cox as its leader, Bolesch says, parliamentarians have elected someone "who knows how to choose his words as no one else in the Strasbourg parliament." She adds: "The Liberal [leader] is endowed with the gift to maintain an elegant balance between form and content."

Bolesch says most of the 626 deputies have set high hopes for the 49-year-old Cox. She says Cox should arouse media interest and hence increase the profile of this transnational legislative body. He should be outspoken in dealing with the president of the European Commission and with the representatives of national governments. Bolesch also sees in Cox a guarantee for eastward expansion. "No other faction has been so persistent in furthering the interests of future EU candidates as the liberals," she writes. "Hence, it is not only his words that will make Cox a good president."


An editorial in "The Wall Street Journal Europe" also looks at the election of Pat Cox as the new president of the European Parliament. The editorial describes this position as "only what the holder makes it" and says Cox should be able to bring renewed sparkle to the institution. The European Parliament "certainly needs better public relations," it adds, citing low voter turnout for EP elections. The editorial writes: "Part of the problem is this parliament is a very strange legislature. It can't initiate proposals; it only rejects and modifies directives from the [European] Commission, the EU executive, and Council, which speaks for the member states."

But the lack of power is not its chief problem, the editorial says. "What's missing is an understanding outside the sheltered world of Brussels that parliament can be a useful advocate of the public interest. Mr. Cox's reforms ought to focus on streamlining procedures and attempt to liven up debate," it says. "Too many Euro-MPs are at the tail-end of their political careers, happy to enjoy comfortable sinecures rather than take up the fight for the public good. Too few publicly question and debate what the Commission or the nation-states are doing." The editorial concludes, "As the euro puts 'Europe' in people's pockets, European democracy would benefit from a stronger parliament."


In a contribution to "The Washington Times," Philip Gordon of the Brookings Institution notes that as U.S. President George W. Bush and Turkish Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit meet today in Washington, another meeting will be taking place on the island of Cyprus. "There, Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash and Greek Cypriot leader Glafcos Clerides will begin a last-ditch process of talks designed to overcome the island's division," Gordon writes.

Although the island's two leaders have met "countless times" since the division of Cyprus 27 years ago, Gordon says recent signs of renewed flexibility "provide real hope." He says the two leaders must insist that Turkish Cypriots "cede some territory and accept the concept of a loose federation." But they must also persuade the Greek Cypriots "to concede maximum autonomy to the Turkish side and [accept] compensation for -- rather than return of -- lost property."

Gordon writes: "The new promise on Cyprus is reinforced by yet another recent potential breakthrough, Turkey's agreement last month [December] to allow a defense relationship to develop between NATO and the EU." Turkey had been blocking plans to allow the EU to use NATO assets for its own operations unless Turkey had the right to veto EU actions that threatened its interests.

Gordon concludes, "[T]he progress on Cyprus and European defense could be the sign of a new Turkish flexibility that shows that Turkey wants to remain on the path toward Europe."


An editorial in Britain's "The Daily Telegraph" looks at the U.S. decision to designate its Taliban and Al-Qaeda prisoners as "unlawful combatants" rather than prisoners of war (POWs) under the third Geneva Convention. This distinction makes the prisoners ineligible for the rights stipulated for POWs by the conventions.

The paper says that, "Whatever their status, those detained are entitled under the conventions to 'basic, humane treatment.' [Restricting] the movement of such desperadoes during transfer from Afghanistan to Cuba is justified. Confining them in cages in Guantanamo [Bay], as has been reported, would be less so."

The paper says it is now up to the International Committee of the Red Cross "to register the detainees and investigate the conditions under which they are being held." Whatever their official status, the editorial says, "Washington would be wise to treat them according to the Geneva norms. In so doing, it draws a distinction between civilized society [and] apocalyptic savagery."


In "Eurasia View," Georgian affairs analyst Jaba Devdariani discusses the planned campaign by Georgian security forces to reassert government authority in the Pankisi Gorge, an area known for its lawlessness. Local Georgian residents are "eager to bring an end to the rampant hostage-taking and livestock rustling" in the region, Devdariani writes. In addition, Russia has repeatedly accused Georgia of providing shelter for Chechen separatists in Pankisi.

Devdariani says the regional crackdown "poses a critical test for Georgia's new ministers of interior and state security." President Eduard Shevardnadze has also "seen his prestige damaged by the Pankisi situation," says the author, adding that the president "now seems determined to provide resolute political support for the anti-crime campaign in the area."

Devdariani writes: "Even limited success in Pankisi should be enough to enhance the shattered image of Georgian law enforcement and bolster the Shevardnadze government's dwindling ratings." But Devdariani adds that many observers say success in the anticrime operation will not be sufficient to stabilize the Pankisi Gorge region. For that, anticrime efforts "must be accompanied by long-term development programs that aim to create a sound economic infrastructure for local residents."


"Die Welt" carries a commentary by Andreas Middel in which he discusses the launch by Austria's far-right Freedom Party of a petition referendum on the controversial Czech nuclear plant at Temelin, near the Austrian border. The referendum is seeking to block Czech efforts to join the European Union unless the Russian-designed station is closed.

The outcome of the referendum is far from clear, but Middel foresees that Austrian protests might fuel unrest in other EU capitals, since those south of the Alps might follow in the footsteps of Joerg Haider's Freedom Party -- although Italian opposition to EU politics has so far been confined to verbal attacks, he says.

Nevertheless, the recent resignation of "Europhile" Italian Foreign Minister Renato Ruggiero has shown how quickly a reliable EU partner can become "an insecure canton in Europe."

What is really disturbing is the way the other EU members have reacted to the situation, says Middel. Earlier, the EU failed dismally in trying to punish Austria by stigmatizing Haider's unpopular, but democratically elected, government. Ostracization is no model for Europe, says Middel. He asks, "How much more tension can the union endure [when] it is repeatedly confronted with the fact that it is more divided than it is united?"


In Britain's daily "The Guardian," columnist Simon Tisdall says the United States "is engaged in a strategic power grab in Central Asia of epic proportions. [The] war in Afghanistan has presented regional political, economic and defense opportunities that the U.S. has long sought and which are now within its grasp."

Tisdall says the U.S. clearly has no intention of leaving the region anytime soon. "Romantics who believe this demonstrates a commitment to rebuilding shattered Afghanistan can dream on," he writes. Tisdall says the task of the U.S. bases on Afghanistan's periphery "is only partly to contain the threat of political regression or Taliban resurgence in Kabul. Their bigger, longer-term role is to project U.S. power and U.S. interests into countries previously beyond its reach."

He says the potential benefits for the U.S. "are enormous: growing military [hegemony], expanded strategic influence at Russia and China's expense, [and above all] access to the fabulous, non-OPEC oil and gas wealth of Central Asia."

Tisdall notes that the U.S. is pursuing increased cooperation with Central Asian nations despite numerous and well-documented human rights concerns. He cites the Human Rights Watch annual report, published this week, which says many nations in the region are characterized by "authoritarian governance, a chronic lack of democracy and respect for human rights -- torture of political prisoners is endemic in Tajikistan, for example -- and often non-existent press freedoms across Central Asia."


An editorial in the British "Financial Times" calls this week's World Trade Organization ruling against a U.S. corporate tax break for exporters who operate through offshore subsidiaries a "landmark." The newspaper says the ruling "has handed the European Union an awesome weapon: the right to impose [sanctions] on U.S. exports if Washington does not comply."

Ideally, it says, "the U.S. should comply with the WTO ruling by changing its law." However, the editorial acknowledges that the chances of the U.S. doing this in the near future are slim.

But it says Washington must not treat European acceptance of this fact "as evidence of weakness. To dismiss trade sanctions as a hollow threat would put Brussels under pressure to show it was serious by applying them. If the U.S. does not amend its law, it needs to signal convincingly [that] it respects the rule of law and EU determination to see it enforced," says the editorial.

The EU's challenge to the U.S. law "was designed more to gain tactical leverage over Washington than to right a serious economic wrong," writes the editorial. Although the U.S. law "clearly breaches world trade rules, it is hard to prove it has caused real commercial damage," it says.

The editorial concludes, "Whatever principles may be at stake in this particular dispute, they are overshadowed by the importance of the U.S.-EU relationship, to both partners and to the rest of the world."


In "The New York Times," columnist Thomas Friedman writes from Kabul on what is needed to stabilize Afghanistan while it rebuilds under the interim administration of Hamid Karzai. He suggests that continued U.S. involvement is a necessary ingredient in this process. Friedman writes, "[Now] that the war is largely finished, the struggle over Afghanistan is resuming, and America has a big decision in front of it: Will it show the same resolve in winning the peace here as it did winning the war here? Will it support and join a multinational force to stay here and stabilize Afghanistan, and create some law and order, until the fledgling new government can get on its feet?" This, Friedman says, is "the question of the day."

He writes: "Every Afghan you stop tells you this country is so war-weary and starved for security that he would much rather have a multinational force police the whole place, over any ethnic militia or local [warlord]."

Friedman compares the decades of violence perpetrated by Afghan warlords to a barbaric cockfight -- a sport which, incidentally, has recently returned to Kabul. He writes: "It is by no means certain that, even if [the U.S. stays] for a limited period to provide security while the Afghans rebuild, they will make it. They may just be too divided after 22 years of civil war. But if we don't try," he says, "it is absolutely certain that this whole country will become just one big cockfight again."


A piece in France's daily "Liberation" takes a look at the financial troubles plaguing the interim administration of Hamid Karzai in Afghanistan. The paper says that the administration "is threatened with bankruptcy."

It notes that representatives of the 16 nations in the Afghan support group and members of the UN met yesterday in Kabul to find at least a short-term solution, before the Afghan donors' conference scheduled for 21-22 January in Tokyo. The paper notes that the World Bank estimates Afghanistan's needs to be in the area of $15 billion over the next 10 years. But "Liberation" quotes the UN special representative to Afghanistan, Lakhdar Brahimi, as saying, "If there are not several million dollars [made available] in the next few days, there will be no more country when the billions of dollars are available."


In "The Boston Globe," columnist James Carroll says the U.S. response to the 11 September attacks has increased the potential for international conflict. Carroll says America's "hyper-martial response to terrorism became the new template for the exercise of power" and has "transformed the meaning of conflict elsewhere, [forcing] other nations [to] previously unimagined levels of bellicosity."

What Carroll calls "the American mode of 'dead-or-alive'" has been "robustly adopted" by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon -- and has "already led to a disastrous breakdown in the Middle East," he says. "When Washington then urges restraint on Israel, why should Israelis not laugh bitterly?"

Carroll says that because launching "a unilateral war" was the U.S. response to 11 September, "the single greatest moral shift to have occurred among nations in the 20th century has been undercut -- the fragile, but precious idea of institutionalized international mutuality" -- the idea that nations "owe each other minimal levels of cooperation, respect, and even deference."

Carroll says with the American declaration that it will "pursue terrorists in any way it pleases, accountable to no one, no matter the consequences to others, the dream of the world as a community of peoples, each worthy of respect, is dead. Now the world is the scene onto which one nation presumes to project its power, leaving to others only the decision whether to bow before it or risk being bombed."

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