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Western Press Review: The Hardening U.S. Stance On Iran, Poverty's Terrorist Links And Democracy In Kazakhstan

Prague, 26 July 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Commentary and analysis in the Western press today looks at the dangerous side of global poverty, Russia's declining presence in Tajikistan, the hardening U.S. stance on Iran, and Kazakhstan's failing democracy, among other issues.


In Britain's "Guardian" daily, columnist Simon Tisdall says the policies of the U.S. administration may be forcing arch-enemies Iran and Iraq into rapprochement. A visit this year to Iran by Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri and a recent increase in the exchange of remains from the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war may signal a broader shift in relations, he says. "Fearing U.S. intentions, Iraq has been working hard in recent months to improve ties with all its neighbors," Tisdall observes.

Washington has recently hardened its stance toward Iran. The U.S. opposes the EU policy of engaging the nation rather than isolating it, has renewed sanctions and refused to pursue a thawing of its relations with Iran. This toughening of the U.S. posture "has understandably been interpreted in Iran as a blatant attempt to foment internal insurrection and revolt," writes Tisdall. Iran's reformists "are appalled." They see U.S. policies "as disastrously counter-productive and, with conservative elements now denouncing them as 'stooges' of the U.S., fully expect the current crackdown on dissenters, independent newspapers, and advocates of engagement with the West to intensify." Tisdall says if Iran and Iraq are provoked into forming an expedient alliance, the U.S. will have only itself to blame.


The "International Herald Tribune" runs an item today in which former Philippine national security adviser Jose Almonte discusses the link between poverty and terrorist movements. The global alliance formed to address terrorist threats must not only focus on defeating terrorism, he says. It must also address "the other side of the security problem, which is people's well-being. The United States must win people's allegiance by the power of its values and its ideals. Not only must it isolate extremists, it must help poor countries to prosper." Additionally, it should help create a world order that allows all peoples to participate.

Almonte describes radical Islamic fundamentalism as "a rebellion of the excluded, a rebellion that feeds on the unfulfilled longings and desires of impoverished people living on the margins of an unattainable consumerist world." The primary lesson of the terrorist attacks, he says, is that "conflict, anarchy and despair cannot be allowed to fester in any part of the world, because it will sooner or later generate problems elsewhere." Rich countries should do more to help the poor, he says. But in many parts of the developing world, the secular state has also "not lived up to its promises of political freedom, economic prosperity and social justice."


A "Stratfor" commentary today says increased U.S. involvement with Tajikistan may signal a declining role for Russia in this "remote corner of Moscow's former empire." U.S. Ambassador to Tajikistan Franklin Huddle confirmed rumors on 25 July that the U.S. is to increase military assistance to Tajikistan. "Stratfor" says that for Washington, aiding the Tajik military "is a logical next step in the war on terrorism." Al-Qaeda is known to have operated from there and its shared border with Afghanistan is extremely porous, allowing militants free transit between the two nations.

Since the Tajik civil war ended in 1997, "Stratfor" notes that 25,000 Russian troops have been stationed on the Tajik side of its border with Afghanistan to keep out militants, refugees and drug-smugglers. "Stratfor" says that if increased U.S. aid makes the Tajik military able to assume this responsibility for itself, the Russian military may "lose the rationale -- as it already has lost the appetite -- for the Tajik deployment."


An article in the current edition of the British-based weekly "The Economist" says Kazakhstan is likely to become one of the world's main energy exporters in the next 20 years, and "should be preparing for a prosperous, democratic future." But instead, President Nursultan Nazarbayev is cracking down on the opposition and the media. "The Economist" says as Nazarbayev consolidates his authority, Western nations that have made Kazakhstan a strategic partner in the war on terrorism "are embarrassed."

It is not in anyone's interests "to see the republic's promising start as a liberal democracy come to an end," the magazine says. Nazarbayev may initially succeed in quashing dissent, but as his power becomes less accountable Kazakhstan's increasing energy revenues may be directed to secret accounts overseas, and all of Kazakhstan's "hopes of becoming a vibrant, extrovert, multi-ethnic society will be dashed."

The magazine says as business ethics are being questioned worldwide, Western firms should also be asking "whether the cozy ties they have established with elites in several ex-Soviet states have abetted arbitrary rule -- while incurring the risk of a torrent of anti-Western protest when power finally changes hands."


Alain Lallemand of Belgium's "Le Soir" discusses the case of Frenchman Zacarias Moussaoui, the alleged 20th hijacker in the 11 September attacks on the United States. Moussaoui had asserted that he would plead guilty -- that he is a member of Al-Qaeda, that he had been working on a project for them since 1995 and took an oath of allegiance to Osama bin Laden. Several of the counts he was charged with carry the death penalty in the United States. But suddenly Moussaoui changed his plea to innocent, in order that he fulfill his commitment to Allah to defend his life.

Lallemand says it is apparent Moussaoui behaved as did the other 19 hijackers. He received money from Al-Qaeda, took classes on flying a Boeing 747, bought a knife -- following the "predetermined program common to all the kamikaze pilots of September 11."

But Lallemand says there is a distinguishing detail in Moussaoui's case. "When Moussaoui arrived on American soil, on February 23, 2001, all the kamikaze teams were established, and all had already undergone their pilot training." Moussaoui likely did not have the time to prepare for participation in the events of 11 September. Perhaps he was preparing for a different attack, Lallemand suggests. But which one? he asks.


In Britain's "Independent," columnist Adrian Hamilton discusses British participation in a U.S.-led military campaign in Iraq. Hamilton says British Prime Minister Tony Blair "is entirely in the hands of Washington." Blair "may or may not be sympathetic himself to the idea of intervening to topple Saddam Hussein, [but] when push comes to shove, he is going to commit British troops to whatever venture America decides upon."

Hamilton stresses that this would be an extremely serious action. "For British and American troops to go to war against another country specifically to unseat its government is a breach of every international convention. For a Western army to march deliberately onto Arab soil would arouse a wave of protest and street feeling in the Middle East whose effects could be catastrophic. And then how would you govern Iraq once you had changed the regime?" he asks. He describes Iraq's more democratically-minded opposition as "weak and divided."

Hamilton goes on to say that risk assessment differs between Europe and the U.S. America regards the primary security threat as coming from rogue states left with Cold War-era resources and technology. But for Europeans, the "bitter regional conflicts exposed by the end of the Cold War" are the greatest threat. Thus, for them, the "Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the source of terrorism, not Iraq."


An item in France's "Le Monde" also discusses Zacarias Moussaoui, and questions whether his trial will shed new light on the events of 11 September. After months of denying his participation in the 11 September attacks, Moussaoui pleaded guilty earlier this month (18 July), admitting to membership in Al-Qaeda and involvement in the September hijackings. "Le Monde" remarks that 11 months of confinement must have made an impact. But Judge Leonie Brinkema, surprised at this reversal, "refused to accept his plea and imposed upon him one week of reflection" to reconsider.

Moussaoui subsequently withdrew his guilty plea in order to avoid capital punishment. But he will have to go further, the paper says, and explain in detail his role in the affair. "Le Monde" says the initial and repeated denials of the accused, the incoherence, at times, of his comments and his repeated insults over past months throw doubt on his credibility, leaving Judge Brinkema "a delicate task" ahead.