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Western Press Review: Bosnia's New High Representative, Iran's Political Struggles, And Escalation On The Subcontinent

Prague, 28 May 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Commentary and news analyses in the Western media today discuss Columbia's newly elected president, Ivaro Uribe; heightened tensions between the two nuclear powers on the subcontinent; Bosnia's new high representative, Paddy Ashdown; Iran's internal political struggles; and the Middle East.


In the European edition of "The Wall Street Journal" today, columnist George Melloan says both India and Pakistan share responsibility for the dangerous game being played out on the subcontinent, as tensions between the two nuclear powers continue to mount over recent attacks in the disputed region of Kashmir. Melloan says India has been "clumsy at best" in dealing with the region's ethnic conflicts. He notes that human rights groups have been highly critical of the way Indian forces have handled the Kashmiri insurrection against Indian rule. Reports of deaths in custody and police torture and rape have failed to spur the Indian government to stem the abuses.

But Melloan says Pakistan shares the blame for recent skirmishes -- and that its claims of supplying "only moral support" to the Kashmiri insurrection are contradicted by "ample evidence that Pakistan has supplied arms, money, and manpower" to the militants. But surely it does not really seek a war with India, Melloan says, noting that Pakistan has lost three wars over the Kashmir region already. A fourth loss, he says, could have far worse results than the others.

Melloan concludes, "It is a shame that these two countries can't bury the hatchet and get on with other, more constructive endeavors, such as creating a climate for investment that would provide jobs and relieve the utter poverty that afflicts both."


A editorial in "The New York Times" discusses the election during the weekend of rightist Ivaro Uribe as Columbia's president. The paper says "frightened and frustrated" Columbians voted Uribe into office on his promises to double the size of the military and build a million-strong civilian militia, in response to violence from the nation's left-wing FARC guerrilla movement. The failure of three years of peace talks with the guerrillas has paved the way for Uribe's more aggressive tactics, the paper says, adding, "It is easy to see why Columbians, longing to defeat the guerrillas and restore a semblance of order to their blood-soaked country, would reach for this approach."

But the editorial adds, "The only long-term solution to this war is through negotiation." It advises Uribe to soften or reverse some of his policy stances "to avoid inflaming an already disastrous humanitarian situation in the countryside." In addition, the new president must "forcefully distance himself" from the growing paramilitaries, which are deepening ties with the military and have "achieved considerable legitimacy among the middle class."

"The New York Times" notes that the U.S. is now considering sending more military aid to Columbia. In the past, U.S. aid was tied -- at least symbolically -- to congressional requirements that serious efforts be made to sever ties between the army and the paramilitaries. Now, despite ample evidence this has not been done, the U.S. is on the verge of increasing its aid. This, the paper says, undercuts the "principal value" of the aid -- "giving political cover to those who advocated a divorce from the paramilitaries."


Germany's "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" discusses the appointment of British diplomat Paddy Ashdown to replace Austria's Wolfgang Petritsch as the international community's high representative in Bosnia. Ashdown arrived in the region yesterday to take over his new post.

The paper notes that Ashdown's appointment comes at a time when funds flowing from the United States and EU for the consolidation and the establishment of a "mini-Yugoslavia" are considerably diminished, and when the EU is taking over increased responsibility from the U.S. in the Balkans. By the end of the year, the EU will have taken charge of the peacekeeping force in Bosnia. The new high representative will then be directly responsible to EU security and foreign policy chief Javier Solana.

The commentary goes on to assess Petritsch's contribution. He has authorized decrees and sanctions to establish a justice administration and a civil service. He was also instrumental in passing an amendment to the constitution giving equal rights to Bosniaks (Bosnian Muslims), Croats, and Serbs -- although the editorial says it remains to be seen whether such measures are viable in practice.

Ashdown, a former leader of the British Liberal Party, is, like Petritsch, an experienced diplomat, the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" notes. He supported Western intervention in the Bosnian war, and recently he appeared as a witness at The Hague war crimes trial of former Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic. Nevertheless, the commentary concludes, Ashdown has a long way to go in steering Southeast Europe toward EU membership.


In a contribution to "The Wall Street Journal Europe," Michael Rubin of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy warns that the scheduled 10 June meeting to approve an EU trade pact with Iran "may send a death blow to the nation's reformers." European leaders advocate increasing trade with Iran in an effort to engage, rather than isolate, the Islamic Republic. But Rubin asks, "Does boosting trade with Iran moderate the clerical leadership or catalyze reform?" He answers, "Unfortunately not, which is why Iranian students, women, workers, and human rights activists describe the proposed trade pact as nothing short of a disaster for their reform movement."

Using "critical engagement" to promote moderation "may be fine in theory," Rubin writes. But he says in Iran, this policy undermines reform. Iran's revolutionary foundations, or "bonyads," "monopolize import-export and all major industry." Hard-line Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei alone chooses the bonyads' directors. These foundations have been known to "fund terror groups and invest in nuclear and biological weapons technology," and subsidize suicide bombings. Rubin says EU leaders might overlook this if the foundations' revenue filtered down to help ordinary Iranians. "Unfortunately," he writes, "the opposite is true -- [for example, the] tax-exempt bonyads strangle private enterprise, which remains subject to over 50 different taxes."

Rubin concludes that as discord grows between the hard-liners and reformists within Iran, the EU's decade-long policy of engagement with the Islamic Republic may prove to have "exorbitant" long-term costs.


"The Washington Post" runs an editorial today entitled "Iran's Reformers Are Losing." It says a fervent debate continues to rage in the West over how to handle Iran's regime, polarized between hard-line Islamic clerics and reformists. "Should Western governments seek engagement with the democratically elected parliament and President Mohammad Khatami, or confront Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and the hard-line clerics, who still control most state powers?" European governments and some in Washington advocate dealing with Khatami, "on the theory that he leads a popular reform movement that is slowly but steadily transforming the country." But the paper says while that is "a hopeful idea," it may not reflect political reality.

The paper discuses the case of 72-year-old reformist intellectual and journalist Siamak Pourzand. Pourzand was apprehended by agents of Iran's Office of Public Morals and the State Inspectorate last November, and his family remains unaware of where he is being held. The "Post" says his case illustrates that Iran's "nominal" reformist government is "powerless to intervene" in the arrest and prosecution of its citizens. President Khatami has similarly "been unable to stop the arrest and imprisonment of dozens of democratic activists or the forced closing of scores of pro-reform publications, while the parliament has been blocked by the clerics from passing any reform legislation. The sad lesson of Pourzand's case is that Iran's would-be reformers are losing. That is a reality that the West must begin to respond to."


An editorial in today's "Chicago Tribune" says the "vast majority" of Israelis and Palestinians, as well as other observers of the conflict, already know "the basic trade-offs of the deal that will be required to reach a Mideast peace." The outline proposed at the Camp David summit in July 2000 forms the main agreement, leaving final details to be resolved "on borders, Jewish settlers, Palestinian refugees, and the parameters of a sovereign Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital."

But the paper says that "bloodshed, political pressure and their long-standing animosity toward each other impede Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian President Yasser Arafat from making the difficult concessions needed to embrace that deal." Public sentiment in the U.S. and abroad keeps President George W. Bush "from taking a tougher line with both men to force them to make compromises."

But the "Tribune" says some things remain certain -- though difficult for either side to acknowledge. Jewish settlers "will have to be moved out of most occupied Arab lands in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and Sharon is loath to do that," the paper says. On the other hand, Palestinian refugees "will have to be told most of them will never return to their homes in Israel, and Arafat can't bring himself to do that."

The paper concludes that "a long, tortured path toward a political solution" must yet be traveled to bring peace to the region.


In France's "Le Monde," commentator Daniel Vernet says Russia has dealt with the process of NATO expansion very well -- by ensuring that each new extension has been accompanied by new concessions to Moscow.

In 1997, after a joint NATO-Russia council was outlined to debate issues of European security, Vernet says Russia still had not achieved "what it had wanted for decades: a veto right over the decisions of the West." The subsequent NATO intervention in Kosovo -- against Russia's stringent objections -- temporarily cooled relations and, according to the Kremlin, undermined the substance of the "19 + 1" council.

Regarding the anticipated next round of expansion later this year, Vernet says "no Russian seriously believes that the membership of the Baltics, and perhaps seven other countries, in the Atlantic alliance threatens Russian security." However, he says, Russia's "indignant communiques and threats of reprisal" over this issue have allowed Moscow to obtain even more compensations for dropping their objections to expansion.

The new joint Russia-NATO Council created earlier this month puts all members on an "equal" footing, although NATO members reserve the right to make security decisions among themselves in the case of a disagreement with Moscow. Vernet remarks that it still cannot be said that Russia has become a virtual member of the alliance, but it "already has one foot in the door," and he says the hope is that its new engagement in NATO affairs will be transformed, eventually, into a veto right.

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