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Western Press Review: From The Hague To The Trans-Atlantic Rift

Prague, 15 February 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Commentary in the Western press today continues to consider the trial of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, which began on 12 February in The Hague, and what his trial means for the future of international law. Other discussion centers on the possibility of a U.S. military campaign in Iraq, Iran's relations with the West, the case of Russian journalist Grigorii Pasko, and debate over the new U.S. environmental policy.


In the "International Herald Tribune," columnist Flora Lewis says the trial of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic is advancing the cause of global justice. The idea of a world law that holds basic human rights above state sovereignty is one that has been discussed abstractly for a long time, but Lewis says this trial is opening up "a new, revolutionary field." She writes that Milosevic's trial is addressing "how states treat their own people, which is only gradually coming to be accepted as an appropriate concern of all people everywhere, on the sole, overriding grounds of our common humanity."

Lewis says that unlike the trials of Nazi war criminals at Nuremberg, The Hague trial is the first time that "it is not the victims, who then became winners and earned the power to judge, who will make the decisions. It is outsiders, acting not on national interest but on principle and, of the greatest importance, carefully applying the principles of due process and the rights of defense."

Lewis concludes that, "at a time when many people feel overwhelmed with gloom at what seem fading prospects for a peaceful, honorable world, the rigors of The Hague process show that basic standards are also being spread."


In Germany's "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung," columnist Berthold Kohler says appearances indicate the U.S. has decided to remove Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein from power, ostensibly in order to prevent his regime from developing weapons of mass destruction. Kohler says although the political and military preparations for a campaign in Iraq would take months, "Washington has already started laying the groundwork, and nobody should remain under any illusion about the United States' determination to topple [Hussein's] regime while it remains a threat."

Kohler says that other nations, particularly in Europe, "should be watching Baghdad and not Washington. [Hussein] can prove that he is not building nuclear, biological or chemical weapons any time he likes -- by complying with the resolutions of the United Nations and letting its inspectors return to his country." It is in facilitating the mission of the UN weapons inspectors that Europe can do the most good, says Kohler. He adds that this would be more useful than Europe's "continuous complaining that the United States doesn't listen to its weak allies."


An editorial in "The Wall Street Journal Europe" calls the conviction and sentencing in late December of Russian naval journalist Grigorii Pasko "one of the sorriest sagas in post-Soviet Russian politics." Pasko was sentenced to four years in prison on espionage charges for "intending" to transfer notes he took at a military meeting to Japanese journalists. The paper notes that on 12 February, the military branch of the Russian Supreme Court overturned two Defense Ministry orders regarding classified material -- orders that had been interpreted broadly to prosecute journalists and others.

But the paper says that this move was not quite a triumph of liberty, as it followed "a clear signal" from President Vladimir Putin. Putin publicly stated in January that certain "explicitly prohibitive" orders may have an adverse effect on economic growth and political stability in the country.

The paper writes: "The Pasko case had become an embarrassment. It received unrelenting international attention, [drawing] attention to other flaws in Russian democracy -- its politicized judiciary, the aggressive security-service prosecutions, the state dominance of television. But the reasoning of the Kremlin is worth noting: These rules are onerous not because they are wrong or interfere with important freedoms, but because they may impede investment and damage Russia's reputation." The paper concludes that "real freedom will be secure when Russia pursues it for its own sake."


In a commentary in France's daily "Liberation," Pascal Riche remarks that U.S. President George W. Bush probably did not deliberately time the unveiling of his environmental plan for curbing greenhouse gas emissions to coincide with Valentine's Day (14 February). But Riche notes that several U.S.-based environmental organizations wryly commented that Bush's plan was indeed "a sweet present" for his "old friends" -- energy-industry cronies who financed his campaign.

Riche writes that in March, Bush rejected the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which called for binding limits on national greenhouse-gas emissions. The plan unveiled yesterday, he says, is far less restrictive. Bush plans to rely mainly on financial incentives and voluntary reductions by industry to achieve his aim of a decade-long, 18 percent reduction in so-called "greenhouse gas intensity" -- the volume of greenhouse gas emissions divided by gross domestic product.

But Riche notes that according to the environmental organization Greenpeace, Bush's reduction forecast is actually lower than what has already been seen in the United States over the past five years. Due to the decline in polluting industries, developed nations all see a regular decline of carbon intensity of about 1 percent a year -- which alone would account for almost half of Bush's planned decrease. This, coupled with an increasing U.S. gross domestic product -- the divisor in the "greenhouse intensity" formula -- means Bush's plan might actually allow for an increase in emissions.


An article in this week's "The Economist" magazine discusses some of the differences between the European and American approaches to Iran. Although both aim to "persuade Iran to desist from making trouble in its turbulent region and beyond, and to obey the arms-control treaties it has signed, the means of persuasion differ. The Europeans believe [in] talking and trading; the Americans, in economic and diplomatic sanctions."

"The Economist" asks: "Is Iran best held to its word by Europe's 'constructive engagement,' America's stand-off and threats, or a combination of the two?" The magazine says a combination is probably best, but with two conditions in mind. It writes: "First, [the] Americans and Europeans [have] to accept what the other is doing, rather than squabbling. Second, since by far the most tempting carrot is the one that America holds in its pocket -- an easing of sanctions -- it is crucial that the Americans themselves play the game."

The magazine concludes that it is of utmost importance to strengthen the position of Iran's reformist President Mohammad Khatami as he resists the more conservative, clerical elements in Iran. The magazine says the best way to do this is to offer Khatami the possibility of "an eventual sanctions-free day."


In the "International Herald Tribune," David Ignatius says a "growing divergence of interests and capabilities" between Europe and the U.S. is causing an imbalance that must be addressed quickly. It "begins with military power," he writes, adding: "The United States is getting stronger, relative to Europe. [From] this strategic imbalance flows everything else: America doesn't need Europe to help fight its war in Afghanistan; and Europe couldn't help much anyway. [Militarily,] these allies may not need each other." And since the attacks of 11 September, Ignatius adds, the Europeans "aren't even America's key diplomatic allies anymore." That role, he says, is now filled by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Ignatius goes on to suggest that for one side to understand what motivates the other may help save the alliance. He writes: "What Europeans don't understand is how much America was changed by 11 September." America is scared and at war, he says, which Europe may find simplistic but which is also undeniable. However, he continues, "what Americans don't understand is that Europeans have been fighting terrorism for decades." Between the Basque separatists in Spain, IRA bombs in London, and Italy's Red Brigades, Ignatius says, Europeans "don't need to be lectured by Americans about how fighting terrorism is a long and bloody war; they've lived it. [Americans] also fail to understand how vulnerable Europeans feel because of their own growing Muslim populations." Ignatius concludes: "It's easy for America, across the water, to talk about bombing Iraq and Iran. But Europeans worry they will be caught in the fallout."


In Germany's "Sueddeutsche Zeitung," Wolfgang Koydl discusses what he calls the "unfinished business" of toppling Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. It seems that it is now the responsibility of U.S. President George W. Bush to accomplish the task his father, former U.S. President George H. W. Bush, left incomplete some 10 years ago, Koydl says. "There is nothing like a small war to revive an ailing economy," he notes wryly, referring to the recent economic troubles in the U.S.

Bush's determination to settle accounts with Hussein has also unnerved U.S. allies. While Berlin, Paris, and Brussels are still contemplating whether it is a good idea to force a regime change in Iraq, in Washington it is only a question of when. Koydl says, "[J]udging from U.S. behavior so far, the decision will be made without consulting Europe." The only exception will be Britain, whom Koydl calls America's "well-behaved and staunch ally."

The aim is clear, Koydl says: There is going to be a U.S. war with Iraq. As far as Germany is concerned, it is still a matter of debate whether it is preferable to display unfailing loyalty to the U.S. or pursue a "satellite" status. Ultimately, he adds, there is money to be made. If America is successful in its endeavor, a devastated Iraq will have to be rebuilt and there will be hundreds of lucrative contracts -- but Koydl say these prospects are of little comfort where war is concerned.

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