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Western Press Review: Ukraine-NATO Relations, UN Food Summit, And Loya Jirga

Prague, 14 June 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Among the issues discussed in commentary in the Western press today are Afghanistan's Loya Jirga in the wake of the appointment of Hamid Karzai to head the Transitional Authority, Ukraine's relations with NATO, the crisis in the Middle East, European immigration, and the ongoing UN food summit in Rome.


An editorial in Britain's "The Guardian" discusses recent reports that pilotless U.S. surveillance planes have been navigating the skies over Iran. The paper suggests that this U.S. move is an unwarranted new chapter in America's "war on terror."

"It may be that the target of the surveillance flight was not Iran but Iraq, where the U.S. -- and Britain -- enforce the northern and southern no-fly zones. Either way, the American military appears to be violating Iranian airspace in a manner which can only bolster anti-Western hard-liners in Tehran and deepen the moderates' fears about Bush administration intentions. None of Iran's neighbors possesses the technological means for invasive snooping of this kind. But the U.S. has both capability and motive."

"The Guardian" continues: "[This] dismaying display of open hostility follows close on [U.S.] President George Bush's inclusion of Iran in his "axis of evil"; Iran's designation by the State Department as the world's number one state sponsor of terrorism; more unsubstantiated claims that Tehran is building nuclear missiles, with Russian help; and Washington's refusal to end its embargo and join the EU in developing trade and diplomatic links. Completely forgotten now, apparently, is Iran's assistance in the early stages of the Afghan campaign. Completely ignored, it seems, is the Iranian majority's wish for gradualist social and civil reform within an Islamic system."

The paper says that if the U.S. administration continues to rely on confrontation as the only means to achieve its goals, the war on terrorism "will surely be lost."


A commentary that appears today in Germany's "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" says that "the populists have sent a frightening message to European heads of government: The people need no longer fear an influx of foreigners."

This has prompted a European Union summit to be held in Seville, Spain, next week to send a message to the world that Europe intends to prevent illegal immigration. "Those who refuse to help Europe must reckon with sanctions," is the declared principle, although the official phrasing actually refers to a "political reaction." The commentary considers this wording to be a mark of progress in the face of those European countries threatening a cut in aid to developing countries.

What is worrying, in the paper's opinion, is that this policy is simplifying a complicated problem and ignores the agreement concluded a year ago with 76 poor countries that pledged they would re-admit illegal immigrants. Yet, the commentary notes that Italy, which is most vociferous in rejecting immigrants, has still not signed this agreement.


In "The Economist" this week, the magazine says relations between Israel and Palestine are "close to their darkest hour." Few believe the two sides can find a solution without outside help, it says. But the magazine says, "Sadly, it looks as if that too will be denied."

"The Economist" continues: U.S. President George W. Bush's recent reception of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Israel's prime minister, Ariel Sharon, "suggests that the administration is not, after all, prepared to take on the unrewarding Middle East." The evidence suggests that the anticipated statement on the U.S. position will offer "little of substance," says the magazine. "Mr. Mubarak, who requested America's support for a timetable of steps towards Palestinian statehood, got short shrift. Mr. Sharon, who argued that no political negotiation could be begun until the Palestinians stopped all violence and reformed their institutions, was smiled upon."

But "The Economist" says: "Sharon's conditions mean, in effect, no negotiation. Violence has served the Palestinians ill. Terrorism by the few [has] brought the whole nation into disrepute; the resurrection of the intifada has caused deep suffering. But the abandonment of the armed struggle needs a glimpse of light at the end of the political tunnel -- and the current Israeli government allows no glimpse," it says. Arafat's previous attempts at restructuring his administration "have been dismissed with disdain," the magazine says -- and "Israel's view of 'reform' now means getting rid of the ailing and failing autocrat himself."


Tobias Piller, in the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung," looks at the efficacy of this week's UN Food Summit held in Rome. The summit sought ways to fight global hunger, which kills an estimated one person every four seconds.

Pillar criticizes the hundreds of officially prepared speeches, including one by Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe, who Pillar says "for years has been in the process of destroying a once-productive agriculture, yet acts as if the fact that his fellow-countrymen go hungry and have to survive on World Food Program aid had nothing to do with him."

Piller says the UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) can take pride in having drawn attention to the issue. He goes on to say, "anyone examining the issue more closely will find no grounds for apocalyptic pessimism," but neither should one trust in simple solutions.

The only real solution is to continue distinguishing between nations that make an effort and those that "set a bad example," he says. After all, many Asian countries have abolished famine during the past two decades, thanks to the green revolution. And the author cites countries which have improved their records, while North Korea, Congo, Tanzania, and Cuba "have poor-to-disastrous results to answer for."

In summing up the problem, Piller quotes from the speech made by President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda. "Africans had farmed the land for 6,000 years, suffering repeated droughts and flooding, but had still managed to feed themselves. If they are now unable to do so, it is for three reasons alone -- war, protectionism, and bad government."


France's daily "Liberation" also looks at the Food Summit. Commentator Eric Jozsef says the summit ended without any commitment from industrialized nations, showing their indifference to the plight of the world's hungry. Hunger or starvation affects 815 million people in the world, and FAO General Manager Jacques Diouf requested $24 billion a year to be put toward halving this number by 2015. But FAO representatives left with only a commitment from Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi yesterday, who pledged to broach the subject with his European partners at the summit in Seville next week, and again during the G-8 conference in Canada at the end of the month.

Jozsef quotes an FAO official as saying it is "no secret" that food aid from the world's richest nations is diminishing and the issue of hunger has lost their interest. The novelty of the situation is that they no longer try to pretend to care. Jozsef notes that almost no EU officials sought to speak at the summit, and few gave any reason to hope for a change. The FAO had to remind the industrialized world of their previous promise to dedicate 0.7 percent of their GDP to the developing world. In the meantime, says Jozsef, FAO statistics tell us that a person starves every four seconds.


In "The Wall Street Journal Europe," Vladimir Socor of the Jamestown Foundation discusses relations between NATO and Ukraine. He notes that Ukraine is the only noncandidate country that maintains a joint military unit with a NATO member, "the Polish-Ukrainian joint battalion, which participates in NATO peacekeeping operations in the Balkans." Ukraine openly supports NATO enlargement, both to the east and the Baltics, and has already "contributed significantly to NATO endeavors on a wide range of security, military, and diplomatic issues."

But Socor says despite this cooperation, neither Kyiv nor NATO has considered Ukraine an aspirant for NATO membership. This was aimed partially at avoiding conflict with Russia, but was also due to Ukraine's own daunting post-Soviet problems, such as slow movement on economic reform and widespread corruption. Ukraine's leaders openly admit that the country "may need up to a decade to fulfill NATO membership criteria," says Socor.

But today, the NATO-Russia rapprochement calls for "a higher institutional framework" for relations between NATO and Ukraine. The two are meeting on 9 July, which may signal the beginning of this process. Socor says: "Ukraine is determined to avoid being left in some gray zone between the enlarging West on one side and an unpredictable Russia on the other. It has no wish to become either a bridge or a buffer between Russia and NATO, or between Russia and the EU." Instead, he says, Ukraine "aspires to be a full-fledged partner and then member of those Western organizations."


In a contribution to "The New York Times," S. Frederick Starr of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute at Johns Hopkins University and Marin Strmecki of the Smith Richardson Foundation look at some of the problems arising from Afghanistan's Loya Jirga grand council.

The Loya Jirga offered a chance to overcome what the authors call "the grave defect" of the interim administration led by Hamid Karzai -- the dominance of the administration by a former clique of Panjshir Valley Tajiks from the Northern Alliance. The Panjshiris led the most powerful ministries under the interim government, those of defense, interior, and foreign affairs.

"This power grab delegitimized the Karzai government for most Afghans," say the authors. And Panjshiri dominance may extend into the new 18-month transitional authority.

Starr and Strmecki go on to say the U.S. and the UN made crucial mistakes during the Loya Jirga process. U.S. envoys pressed former King Zahir Shah to withdraw himself from consideration for a leadership position, thus "pre-empting the Loya Jirga from selecting the nation's leader by itself." U.S. envoy Khalilzad then announced the king's decision at a press conference, "thereby tainting the new government as a creation of foreign powers...." The "feared" Panjshiri-controlled National Security Directorate was also given free access to the Loya Jirga. These actions, say the authors, "convinced many that the Loya Jirga is a puppet of Panjshiris and foreigners, and that the Bush administration is not willing to let Afghans engage in any democratic debate that might contradict American views."

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