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Western Press Review: Seeking U.S. Rapprochement With Iran, Poland's Economic Doubts

Prague, 4 June 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Western press commentary today discusses the pitfalls of an unwieldy EU bureaucracy, moving toward engagement with Iran, Poland's economic shifts, Russia's policy on Iraq and Iran, and the British queen's golden jubilee, celebrating her 50 years on the throne.


In the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung," Helmut Bunder says cash is accruing in the European Union's regional and structural fund "because the right program or the required national co-funding cannot be found for the billions on offer." Bunder says one reason for this is that national administrations and EU bureaucracy move so slowly that they cannot keep up with funding applications.

But the funding has already been promised, says Bunder, and it will eventually have to flow. "The refund is merely a loan that will be due for repayment at some later date. So the European Commission is caught between a rock and a hard place," Bunder says.

The commission will most likely take the blame for the failure of member states to ensure the conditions for swift payment. "The funding backlog rightly gives rise to doubts as to the efficiency of the system," Bunder writes. "If regional policy is so lame with 15 member states, what will happen after the EU's enlargement?" he asks. Bunder advises: "It is high time to think about alternative concepts. The concept of solidarity must not be allowed to choke in the red tape of subsidies bureaucracy."


An editorial in the British "Financial Times" looks at recent attempts by the Polish government to crack down on the monetary and economic policies of the country's central bank, saying: "The recent challenge to the independence of Poland's central bank is the latest sign of the country's disturbing drift into economic and political uncertainty. [The] fact that the government is even considering such measures is a matter of deep concern."

"Poland is in danger of losing its way," the paper writes. If it veers "off the track of market-orientated reform," even its European Union accession could be at risk. And that "would be a defeat for Poland and for the whole continent," it says. But the paper also acknowledges it is no surprise Poland is tired of the EU's "endless" demands for pre-accession reform, "or that they are now falling prey to the seductive voices of economic interventionism and of populism."

The "Financial Times" suggests that Prime Minister Leszek Miller "must make clear his commitment to further reform including privatization, labor deregulation, overhauling the courts and, above all, EU accession preparations. Mr. Miller should also drop plans for increased intervention in the economy through the remaining state-owned banks. Bringing private enterprises back under public control would send very damaging economic signals," the paper warns.


In a contribution to the "Christian Science Monitor," George Washington University professor Amitai Etzioni says the United States "is better off engaging Iran, as it does China, rather than trying to isolate it, as it does Iraq."

Etzioni remarks that Iran's reformist elements had been making steady progress, but that the U.S. president's axis-of-evil speech earlier this year: "stopped most Iranian reformers cold. Since that address, the reformers' often valiant struggle [for] a more liberal Islam suddenly seemed unpatriotic, as Iran expects to be attacked by the U.S. sooner or later." So for now, says Etzioni: "reformers feel they must lie low. [This] is particularly disconcerting as Iran, a non-Arab country, was on its way to becoming easily the most liberal nation in the region."

But "the last thing the U.S. should do is openly realign itself with the reformers; this would be the kiss of death for them." And covert support would be even worse, as it would breed suspicion and distrust. Instead, Etzioni says the U.S. should engage Iran, as it has done with China. Washington "could lift the sanctions on [commerce], permit investment in Iran, and allow for a freer flow of visitors."

Etzioni says the U.S. "should still pressure Iran to cease supporting terrorists or building weapons of mass destruction." But for now, "reform should be given a chance, and Iran should be invited to join the nations fighting terrorism."


In "The Wall Street Journal Europe," editorial-page editor Therese Raphael writes from London on the celebrations for Queen Elizabeth II's golden jubilee. In her 50 years on the throne, writes Raphael, Britain has been: "very successful. It has become comfortable in its post-imperial skin as the world's fourth-largest economy, a major European power broker and America's closest ally."

But "appropriate questions" have also been raised about the monarchy, she says, among them: "Is it right that so many extended members of the family enjoy such lavish privilege? [Is] it right that so much of so precious an art collection is never open to the public for viewing? Is it right that an apolitical, symbolic head of state read a statement to parliament written by the prime minister and outlining his agenda for the session? Should the head of state also be head of a church?"

Raphael says: "For all the accolades of recent days, Buckingham Palace ignores such valid questioning at its peril. Over 80 percent of respondents to a recent poll said they want to keep the monarchy; 41 percent said they thought it should modernize. But public sentiment is a fickle thing and ultimately the monarchy serves at the pleasure of the people," she says.


In a contribution to "The New York Times," Stephen Sestanovich of the Council on Foreign Relations says Russian foreign policy cannot continue to satisfy the divergent interests of Iran, Iraq, and the United States. Thus, Russian President Vladimir Putin is repositioning Russia's policies, but only a little, Sestanovich says.

While recent steps have been a start, "they do not wrest control from Russian domestic interests that benefit most from keeping Russian policy on Iran and Iraq as it is." Russian companies "have by far the largest share of Iraqi trade under the United Nations' oil-for-food program," he notes. Russian oil and gas companies, and exporters to Iraq, want to ensure UN inspections do not threaten Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. Meanwhile, the Russian nuclear industry wants Putin "to keep Iran's favor by making sure that restrictions at Bushehr [nuclear plant] do not block covert nuclear cooperation."

But Sestanovich says there is a way "to ease Putin's predicament that could help him avert a clash with Washington without seeming to embrace American policy outright: He can close the gap between Russian actions and Russian rhetoric." Standing up to Russian business interests "will carry political costs for Putin. But by doing so, he can enhance American confidence in the new partnership with Russia -- perhaps enough to get Washington to discuss how Russia's economic sacrifices should be recognized."


In France's daily "Le Monde," Natalie Nougayrede discusses what she calls Russian President Putin's "honeymoon" with the West. Having been promoted to the rank of "strategic ally" in the war against terrorism, welcomed in limited fashion by NATO, and in the midst of fashioning a more "energetic" dialogue with the EU, Putin, she says, is "the most courted of men."

But Nougayrede says the nature of the Putin regime, and its tendency toward authoritarianism, have somehow been forgotten. According to this new view, she says, lawsuits against journalists, charges of espionage, and the intimidation of political opponents are mere "vestiges of a totalitarian past," which has given way to a slow but inevitable shift toward a more "European" society. But she notes that in 2001, 12 journalists were killed or reported missing; since the beginning of this year, seven have already been killed. She says this makes Russia a more dangerous country for journalists than Colombia.

Nougayrede goes on to note that in Chechnya, the "disappearances" and violence against civilians continues. Russian air power bombed villages in southeastern Grozny even during U.S. President George W. Bush's visit to Moscow. Nougayrede says Putin remains firmly opposed to some types of progress, in spite of the warm solicitude that the Europeans and Americans show him.


An analysis in "The Wall Street Journal Europe" says the Asian security conference taking place in Almaty provides "a perfect opportunity" for Indian and Pakistani leaders to discuss their differences on neutral ground. Both Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf are attending the meeting, but Prime Minister Vajpayee has "ruled out all dialogue and discussion" until Pakistan can prove it has taken action against Kashmiri militant groups.

The editorial calls this policy "self-defeating," adding that "it seems strange" India "has chosen this moment to ratchet up the tension with Pakistan to such an extreme, just when it seems that Islamabad's policies are undergoing a fundamental shift." As the victim of Kashmiri terrorism, India "had the moral high ground in the conflict with Pakistan, but it is fast losing it by taking such an aggressive approach," the paper says.

The editorial suggests Prime Minister Vajpayee should indicate that, while Pakistan must do more to stop terrorism: "there has been enough movement to justify talks in Almaty. That then puts the ball back in the court [of] Musharraf, who will be under pressure from the U.S., Russia and even his ally China to keep up the momentum for peace." The paper concludes that "a short and frank exchange of views can hardly hurt India's bargaining position."


An editorial in Britain's daily "The Guardian" says a bilateral meeting between Indian and Pakistani leaders at the Asian security conference in Almaty would be "little more than a symbolic handshake," and therefore virtually "pointless." Indo-Pakistani talks in Almaty "would only make sense as part of a broader commitment by both sides to reverse the drift to war and press for a political solution," the paper says. "That would mean reducing the huge levels of extra troops each side has mobilized along their mutual border in recent weeks. It would mean the public renunciation of any preemptive effort to seize territory." The paper says a return to a search for a political solution "would also mean some sort of 'internationalization' of the Kashmir issue, preferably by the dispatch of UN monitors, not just to patrol the Line of Control, but to move up and down along Pakistan's borders with Kashmir, the primary entry point for terrorists."

"The Guardian" goes on to say that nuclear tensions on the subcontinent have seemed to simmer down in recent days. The overwhelming destructiveness of nuclear weapons may have led to some self-deterrence, the paper suggests, as both leaders are showing signs "of understanding the true nature of the weapons they acquired."