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Western Press Review: Kyrgyz Political Tensions, Afghanistan, Middle East

Prague, 11 February 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Commentary in the Western press today and over the weekend looks at Western relations with Iran and Iraq in the wake of U.S. President George W. Bush's "axis of evil" label. Other analyses are of rising political tensions in Kyrgyzstan, German tensions with the European Commission, and events in Afghanistan and the Middle East.


A "Financial Times" editorial looks at U.S. President George W. Bush's recent categorization of Iran and Iraq, along with North Korea, as an "axis of evil." The paper says that although Iran and Iraq may seem to pose similar threats, "they require different treatment." It notes that the U.S. is now increasing the pressure for Iraq to readmit UN weapons inspectors. "The assumption in Washington is that Iraq will refuse, justifying U.S. military action," the paper writes. But if the U.S. "is planning significant military action, it must first build a strong case against Baghdad and, preferably, forge another coalition of allies, as over Afghanistan. America's friends will have to be convinced that all diplomatic options have been attempted and that the use of force will be effective." The paper says that even more challenging "will be persuading European and Arab governments that the aim should be to oust [Iraqi leader] Saddam [Hussein]."

As for Iran, the "Financial Times" says that the U.S. must be careful not to provoke an internal backlash. "The Iranian regime is divided and the reformist wing led by President Mohammad Khatami has been attempting to moderate Iran's foreign policy. A hard-line approach to Iran risks bolstering the extremists. The U.S. is right to press its European allies to adopt a firm attitude toward Iran's procurement of weapons of mass destruction. But it should listen to European arguments that dialogue with Tehran is the best means of addressing Western concerns."


In "Eurasia View," Alisher Khamidov of the Kyrgyzstan-based Osh Media Resource Center discusses the recent death of Sherali Nazarkulov following a 22-day hunger strike to protest the arrest of parliament member Azimbek Beknazarov. Nazarkulov and other protesters charged that Beknazarov's arrest was politically motivated and an attempt to silence criticism of the government. Over 300 other hunger strikers continue to demand Beknazarov's release from custody. Parliament members have also released a written statement blaming Nazarkulov's death on Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev and calling for his resignation.

Khamidov writes that "official reaction to Nazarkulov's death has been muted." He also cites a Kyrgyz human rights report as saying that authorities moved Nazarkulov's body from Bishkek to a remote village "in order to avoid any public[ity]; otherwise, many people would have gone to the funeral."

Khamidov goes on to say that President Akaev's "continued silence on Nazarkulov's death, and the broader issue of the pro-Beknazarov protests, has antagonized the opposition." He suggests that the current controversies will continue to intensify the opposition to Akaev's government.


In the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung," columnist Peter Hort considers the recent spat between Germany and the European Commission over Germany's budgetary deficit. Hort writes: "[The] House of Europe [is] showing its first cracks. The criticism by Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder of the European Commission, which has dared to reproach Germany for its high budget deficit, is now threatening the stability of the euro. Yet should the solidity of the new common currency be left in the lurch just because the commission's fiscal warning does not fit into Mr. Schroeder's campaign concept?" he asks.

Hort continues: "If Europe's finance ministers are serious about the euro, then they had better resist the pressure coming from Berlin when they meet on Tuesday [12 February] and follow the commission's recommendation [that Germany be warned about its growing budget deficit.] [The] euro still has to face its real acid test," he says. "Germany bears great responsibility for the success of this balancing act that does not have the luxury of a political safety net. If Berlin continues to treat breaches of the rules as trifles, to subject the commission and its partners to political blackmail and erect walls to free competition on the single market, the grand experiment that is the euro will fail."


In a column originally published in the "Los Angeles Times" and reprinted in the "International Herald Tribune," columnist William Pfaff discusses the situation in the Middle East. As the first year of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's government draws to a close, Pfaff writes: "The Year of Sharon has been the most violent year in two decades for Israel, and the most futile year in the whole of its history. Moral recoil from Ariel Sharon's policies has cracked the edifice of Israeli public solidarity. [His] first year in office has failed to provide either the peace or the restored security he promised."

Pfaff says that Sharon's policy "is meant to destroy any possibility of a viable independent Palestinian state. [Sharon] believes that the Palestinians [will] eventually abandon the [Palestinian Liberation Organization] and resign themselves to existence under Israeli domination, and to a steady expansion of Israeli settlements."

Pfaff goes on to say that the U.S. no longer has a significant role to play in the region and criticizes the U.S. administration's unwavering support for Sharon. He writes that the U.S. "now is irrelevant, so far as any solution is concerned. Israeli policy is Bush administration policy." Other possible initiatives to restore the peace process involving the UN or other external bodies will also be thwarted, says Pfaff, "so long as the United States gives unqualified support to Mr. Sharon."


In the Austrian daily "Die Presse," Friedrich Leibl discusses the attitudes of European Union foreign ministers toward Middle East issues. At their weekend meeting on 8-9 February in the historic Spanish town of Caceres, the ministers accused the United States of over-simplifying the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The EU, Leibl says, has a strong desire to pursue an independent policy that resolutely favors the return of Israel and Palestine to the negotiating table. Unlike the U.S., which continues to support Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, the EU still sees Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat as an "incontestable point of reference."

The commentary goes on to discuss the differences regarding the Middle East between the U.S. and Europe, and even within the EU, but ultimately cites European Commission President Romano Prodi's observation that "the EU has never played a role in the region." Leibl notes that the foreign ministers were in agreement over the weekend that "Europe is doomed to be meaningless as long as it fails to build common military structures."


In France's daily "Liberation," Jean Quatremer writes from Caceres about Europe's growing divergence from the U.S. Quatremer says even the most pro-American countries seem to feel that George W. Bush had "gone a little far" in his "axis of evil" speech. Bush's vision of the United States waging unilateralist war against terrorism causes both diplomatic and military problems for Europe, writes Quatremer. The EU has been reduced to irrelevance on both points in many cases. From a military point of view, Quatremer writes, Europe is indeed a "pygmy." And no EU nation is willing to rush into an arms race to rectify this situation, he says.

Quatremer goes on to note that over the weekend French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine made it clear that at times it is necessary for Europe to oppose the U.S. Quatremer says that the 15 member nations of the EU reaffirmed in Caceres that, for them, "the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not an issue of terrorism, as both Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and the U.S. president seem to insist. Europe still overwhelmingly considers Yasser Arafat the legitimate Palestinian leader, and continues to appeal for a return to negotiations."


An editorial comment in Britain's "Financial Times" discusses the security situation in Afghanistan in light of recent outbreaks of fighting. The papers says, "With sorry predictability, Afghanistan is sliding back into anarchy. While Hamid Karzai, chairman of the interim administration, has been presenting the attractive new face of Afghanistan to the outside world, some of his country's warlords have been resorting to their nasty old habits of thuggery and extortion." But the paper says the international community should not do too much to quell this violence. In its words, "Afghanistan can only be helped to the extent that the Afghan people want to help themselves. If they collectively decide to spurn the greatest opportunity imaginable to restore some kind of normality then so be it. It would be senseless and highly perilous for the small international security force to get sucked into a vortex of mini-civil wars," says the paper.

But the paper goes on to say that in extreme cases, "U.S. air power should be used to intimidate any rampant warlords who threaten to turn minor turf battles into a broader national conflict." It adds that Karzai "should be given much discretion in trying to broaden stability."


In "The Washington Post," columnist Sebastian Mallaby looks at the peacekeeping role of the UN. He cites a 2000 report that describes how the UN has been repeatedly "lumped with crises that it lacked the means to resolve." He says "the illusion of UN power" has allowed for buck-passing while "the reality of UN impotence has doomed the resulting missions."

Mallaby says the situation in Afghanistan "has tested United Nations resolve to avoid missions impossible. [The] pressure to get involved has proved irresistible. The United Nations has found itself overseeing Afghanistan's political and economic reconstruction, and it is doing so without the military force necessary to ensure the stability on which reconstruction depends. The United Nations, in sum, is kidding itself," writes Mallaby.

But the author goes on to say that the United Nations "never will have the resources to bring peace to torn nations; the world is stuck with buck-passing governments and a United Nations that lacks bucks. And so the UN leaders have to set goals, demand action and hope that people will believe in their authority." Mallaby concludes: "It is not a robust mechanism. But it is the best we have."

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