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Western Press Review: Soviet-Era Arms, Iranian Unrest, And Ukraine'sFatal Air Show

Prague, 29 July 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Western media commentary and analysis today and over the weekend looks at Saturday's (27 July) fatal crash at a Ukrainian air show, the lingering danger from Russia's Cold War-era armaments, environmental matters in the European Union, and the possibility of a revolution in Iran, among other issues.


In "The Boston Globe," staff writer Thomas Oliphant suggests that the U.S.-led "war on terrorism" is unwisely focusing on a questionable threat from Iraq while ignoring the very real threat posed by remaining stockpiles of Cold War-era weapons throughout the territory of the former Soviet Union. There are "huge problems with [the] methods, focus and priorities" of the American antiterrorism campaign, he says. Oliphant calls it a "miracle" that "to date nothing has been stolen or sold to a terrorist network and that no scientist on the edge of poverty has succumbed to the financial incentives from those networks and rogue nations to turn traitor."

One example of the threat posed by Soviet stockpiles is a collection of buildings in Siberia surrounded by concertina wire. In those buildings are "1.9 million small -- mortar shell-size -- canisters of VX and sarin nerve gas [stacked] up like wine bottles." Oliphant says each canister contains "enough gas to kill 180,000 people" and could be readily obtained from the site by a moderate force of trained fighters. He concludes by saying, "the idea that destroying all this stuff is not a top priority in the fight against real terrorist threats is absurd."


A "New York Times" editorial today calls on U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell to express his views more strongly within the administration of President George W. Bush. Rumors have circulated of late that Powell disagrees with other Bush administration officials on a number of foreign-policy issues. "The New York Times" says the U.S. administration, and the country, "would be better served if [Powell's] views prevailed more often." President Bush "needs [Powell] more than [Powell] needs the president," the paper adds. "Bush, a foreign policy welterweight when he assumed the presidency, would be instantly diminished at home and abroad if Powell were no longer at his side."

The editorial says Powell is "ideally suited" to address issues such as the ongoing war against terrorism, nuclear nonproliferation, and how to proceed regarding Iraq. "The measure of success for secretaries of state is not whether they loyally follow the lead of the president but whether they guide foreign policy in directions that advance American interests abroad." "The New York Times" says Powell "has the convictions and seasoning to be a great secretary of state, but he will not achieve that stature if he fails to stand his ground."


A "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" commentary focuses on the 27 July air-show disaster in Ukraine, in which at least 83 people died. As the country observes an official day of mourning today, the commentary says Ukraine is in a state of shock and the people have every right to be told why such an accident occurred. This is particularly true because Ukraine has been plagued with so many disasters, notably in the mining industry, where some 3,700 workers have lost their lives in work-related accidents since the country gained independence in 1991. The paper calls Ukraine a "sick country" and, as the second-largest country in Europe, a prime example of "an unsuccessful transformation." The economy has been in decline for eight years and, although it is now making a slow recovery, this has had little effect for the population at large. Average earnings remain at approximately $50 per month.

Last year, Kyiv displayed its "incompetence" by shooting down a Russian passenger plane and then being reluctant to admit the error. This time President Leonid Kuchma was quick to react to the calamity by having the air-force chief arrested and the armed-forces chief sacked, while the defense minister offered his resignation. But the paper says these acts alone "will not win [Kuchma] the confidence of the people."


In the "Chicago Tribune," syndicated columnist Georgie Anne Geyer says the U.S. administration's "less and less thoughtful policies are now [actively] encouraging terrorism across the world." The recent policy change on Iran is one example of this, she says. The Bush administration announced on 12 July that it would withdraw support from Iran's reformist leaders and instead throw its weight behind "the Iranian people" directly. Geyer suggests this policy is unrealistic and asks ironically, "Have we discovered some magical new way to control from afar frenetic mobs on Near Eastern streets?" Geyer adds that, "Any legal or moral questions about whether America has the right to change regimes or to support anti-government forces in a foreign country are no longer even asked."

Another unwise move by the Bush administration was its decision to withhold $34 million from the United Nations Population Fund, says Geyer, as one of the root causes of terrorism is overpopulation. She says for anyone "who truly understands the wellsprings of terrorism, there is no question that these decisions will only feed its ugly wrath." U.S. involvement in Iran -- and announcing its intent to effectively change the regime -- "will serve to convince any unconvinced Third World young people that the United States imperium will not leave them alone and must indeed, as many of them already believe, be fought at whatever cost."


In a contribution to France's daily "Liberation," Jean-Louis Dufour says Washington lacks the "diplomatic means" to launch a military operation in Iraq. He said attacking Iraq would be "in formal contradiction of human rights and the United Nations Charter, and the operation would by no means be assured of success." Dufour says there are numerous technical and military obstacles to such an operation, but these are dwarfed by the political constraints involved.

Washington would probably not undertake an operation of this magnitude without the backdrop of a more tranquil global environment, and this is far from the case at the moment. Indian-Pakistani tensions persist, and Damascus and Tehran remain opposed to an American campaign in Iraq. Saudi Arabia is anxious to preserve its status as the premier supplier of petroleum to the United States, a status that could be threatened by the installation of a pro-U.S. regime in Iraq. Jordan has refused to serve as a platform for U.S. attacks and Turkey does not provide an ideal base. Finally, Russia, China, and the European Union also oppose a U.S. campaign in Iraq. Dufour concludes that the task the U.S. administration has set for itself "seems impossible to achieve." He says, "It would be difficult for the American hyperpower to act alone, against the opinion of the whole world."


In the British daily "The Guardian," columnist Ros Coward says contradictory European Union policies are undermining its attempts at environmental protection. Most think of the EU as a progressive force on the environment, she says. "Yet the EU is implicated in some of Europe's worst acts of environmental vandalism.... [The] EU has been pouring money into road and dam projects in Spain and Portugal, many of them disastrous for wildlife."

The European regional development fund, which finances infrastructure improvements in disadvantaged areas, is particularly guilty, she says. "Across Europe, the list of major wildlife areas threatened by this fund is shocking."

EU agricultural policy also undermines its attempts to protect the environment, says Coward. "The huge subsidies paid under [the EU's Common Agricultural Policy] for intensive farming have led to draining of wetlands, destruction of hay meadows and chemical pollution." In Eastern Europe especially, she says, there is still "much to save. In most accession countries, traditional small-scale farming still exists."

She says European citizens need to call EU leaders "to account for the environmental damage that results from such contradictory policies. The EU uses our taxes, and if we think we are paying for environmental protection, it's time we had it."


In today's "The Wall Street Journal Europe," former Director of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency James Woolsey says it is not only that Iranian students have been demonstrating against the Tehran regime, that workers have been rioting, and that the economy is collapsing, but that the very "ideology of Iranian theocracy is reeling, and this is the trend to watch."

Woolsey says Iran's "union of mosque and state has worked no better [than] the union of church and state did in Europe." He says the "Shiite theocracy today is where Soviet communism was in the early 1980s: Still in power, but widely recognized as being rigid and unworkable." And the ruling mullahs are finding it harder and harder to get the police and other security services to suppress the demonstrators.

Woolsey says most Western leaders and the media seem to believe that Iranian President Mohammad Khatami "embodies the reform movement in Iran." But he says Khatami is essentially controlled by the hard-line conservatives. When his final term as president is over in three years, Woolsey says the ruling mullahs will have to find another "official" reformer who will be accepted by the people, or "abandon the attempt to marry the mosque to the state, and return all clerics to their traditional role outside government."