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Western Press Review: Fact-Finding In Jenin And Russia's Role In The U.S.-Iran Dispute

Prague, 2 August 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Analysis and commentary in the Western media today look at possible U.S. military action against Iraq, the economic misconceptions underlying debate within the European Union, seeking the truth in the West Bank camp of Jenin, and Russia's launch yesterday of large-scale naval exercises in the Caspian Sea.


The British daily "The Guardian" discusses the UN report, released yesterday, regarding events at the West Bank refugee camp at Jenin last April. In the wake of an Israeli assault on the Palestinian camp, witnesses claimed Israeli forces used illegal and unnecessary force against civilians.

"The Guardian" notes that the UN's fact-finding mission was thwarted, as Israel refused to allow the UN access to Jenin or to provide any information. "Israel, with tacit U.S. support, flatly refused to cooperate," it says. And the UN is thus "forced to concede that some of its conclusions are tentative."

"The Guardian" says that, given its uncooperative attitude, Israel's welcome of the report is suspect. Israeli officials "claim that the inquiry has cleared up 'misconceptions' about what Israeli forces did in Jenin." But the paper says that, on the contrary, it "seems largely to confirm what many suspected at the time: that [Israeli Prime Minister] Ariel Sharon's army frequently acted recklessly and illegally in Jenin and other towns by disregarding the safety of Palestinian civilians, demolishing their homes about their heads, and blocking medical and humanitarian aid."

The paper concludes that both sides' "continuing, callous disregard for civilian life is the single most distressing feature of this conflict."


In Britain's "Financial Times," Birmingham University political science professor Colin Hay remarks that many questions about the future of the European Union are considered within the context of globalization. But he says globalization is "an inadequate and increasingly inaccurate description of the trading and investment environment in which European economies must operate."

Hay suggests that the "openness" of an economy -- the volume of trade -- must be distinguished from the extent to which it is globalized, or how far it spans the globe. These two considerations are often treated as interchangeable, says Hay, leading to a mischaracterization of European economies.

EU economies today are generally more open, he says. They are now more integrated with the world economy, but they have become even more integrated with each other. An ever-increasing portion of trade is internal to the EU. Thus, says Hay, European economies "have in fact deglobalized their trading relations over the past 40 years."

Hay concludes that if the EU's Constitutional Convention is going to outline a vision for Europe's future, it must challenge some of the prevailing misconceptions that underlie debate within the European Union.


A commentary in the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" entitled "Money and Friendship" cites Jean Paul Getty as saying that "selfless friendship can only exist among people in the same income bracket."

The new alliance between the U.S. and Russia is under strain, the paper says, as the two dispute Moscow's lending assistance to the Iranian atomic-energy program. The wealthy U.S. is concerned about this aid leading to Iran developing weapons of mass destruction. The still-poor Russians' primary worry is money. This, of course, places a considerable strain on U.S.-Russian relations, especially as Russia now envisages building five more nuclear reactors in Iran, arousing fresh anger from the U.S. administration.

The commentary says America's fears appear to be justified. There is no trusting the Iranian regime, it says, but the bare facts will be decisive: How far along is Iran in developing atomic bombs? And does it really need know-how from Russia?

If the answers to these questions can be supplied, they may be able to convince the Kremlin to subordinate its financial interests to U.S. security concerns, the paper says. But of course, "Russia must also receive something in return if it is to subordinate its business plans to the U.S.-Iranian dispute."


"The Wall Street Journal Europe" today carries a contribution by analyst Vladimir Socor discussing Russia's launch yesterday of large-scale naval exercises in the Caspian Sea. Socor says Russia's strategic goal in launching these operations is to divert the majority of the Caspian's oil and gas supplies through Russia on their way to international markets. Russia aims to "amalgamate most of the Caspian oil supplies" with its own "into a single pool for export under Russian physical and political control." He says this would give Moscow "leverage over European consumer countries, and a renewed predominance over Caspian producer countries."

In June, Russia and Kazakhstan signed an agreement ensuring "a Russian near-monopoly" on the transit of Kazakh oil. But in Azerbaijan, most anticipated oil export is committed to the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline project, backed by the U.S. and other Western nations.

Russia opposes any trans-Caspian pipelines that bypass Russia on their way to oil markets. But Kazakhstan's giant Kashagan oil field, which Western companies are now exploring, may offer a chance to circumvent dependence on Russian transit, says Socor. But he adds that it is time to investigate whether Russia's "stated willingness to cooperate with the West on energy security issues is real...."


In "Eurasia View," CIS affairs analyst Sergei Blagov notes that Azerbaijani soldiers are taking part in Russia's Caspian naval exercises. This cooperation may indicate a shift in Russian-Azerbaijani relations, he says.

Several observers have suggested that Russia is wary of Azerbaijan's intention to build closer ties with NATO. Some have even said the Caspian nation could join the alliance by 2005. And Russia has traditionally allied itself with Armenia, Azerbaijan's rival. But since earlier this year, Russia and Azerbaijan have been displaying signs of detente. Blagov says Azerbaijan's participation in the Russian flotilla "indicates some desire for harmony between the two governments."

Russia has in the past shown support for Azerbaijan's pro-Russian opposition politicians. Now, Russian officials are being more taciturn in this support. But truly "warm relations remain elusive," says Blagov.

Moscow and Baku failed to strike a deal in June regarding Caspian ownership rights. He goes on to note that "in a closed sea like the Caspian," a naval display like Russia's "can look like a warning to states that do not accede to Russia's wishes," adding that Russia "cannot simply throw around its weight."


A "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" editorial discusses U.S.-Iraqi relations and America's stated intention to remove President Saddam Hussein from power. At present, the paper says, the question is no longer "whether" to attack, but "which" plan to pursue. These plans are complicated by the fact that it is proving impossible to forge a new anti-Saddam coalition in the Arab world. Europe is also taking a skeptical view of the launch of another Gulf War.

In the past week, the news from Washington has been ever more confusing as various factions in the administration haggle over differing strategies. The paper says the U.S. Senate hearings taking place this week should clarify what danger Saddam actually poses and how to deal with him.

Clearly, the U.S. would win any war, the paper says. But the biggest question is: What would come after? What effect would such a war have on the Islamic world? Who would rule? Does America have the patience to support "nation building" financially and militarily for years and years to come?

As long as there are no satisfactory answers to these questions, the paper advises America "to pursue an unheroic, low-key policy."


In Belgium's "Le Soir," correspondent Agnes Gorissen notes that today is the 12th anniversary of Iraq's invasion of Kuwait. UN sanctions against Iraq followed on 6 August, and the U.S. "Desert Shield" operation on 8 August. And these events continue to have daily repercussions in the region, she says. The Iraqi population continues to suffer under sanctions, and there are threats of new U.S. operations in Iraq. But Gorissen notes this idea does not have much support outside of the United States.

The Arab world is stridently against a U.S. offensive in Iraq, she says, but not out of Arab solidarity. Instead, they fear regional repercussions. The EU has also been making its objections known, while China and Russian reaffirmed yesterday that the UN Security Council should handle this issue, not the United States.

Gorissen goes on to note that during this week's U.S. Senate hearings on the issue, experts were not in agreement as to the nature or immediacy of the Iraqi threat. She notes that even those who believe the danger from Iraq to be high agree that "it is not very probable that Baghdad is sharing this technology with terrorist groups."


This week's "The Economist" magazine says the U.S.-Iraq confrontation "is being played out in the slowest of slow motion." U.S. President George W. Bush "has disclosed his intentions, but not his chosen means or timing." In past weeks, "calculated leaks, mingled probably with deliberate disinformation, have prompted a frenzy of speculation." But officially, nothing has been decided.

The magazine says Bush has not done much to prepare either American or world opinion for a large-scale new war in the Gulf. As for Iraq's Saddam Hussein, it says he "must know that he cannot win once America launches an all-out attack on him. His main aim in diplomacy is therefore to play for time in the hope that some external event will render the whole project moot."

Regarding the possible outcomes of a U.S. military campaign in Iraq, "The Economist" says the danger of Iraq's postwar disintegration is overstated. "One reason to expect Iraq to stay together is precisely that most of its neighbors want it to. Turkey, Syria, and Iran, fearing the precedent, will resist the emergence of an independent Kurdistan. Saudi Arabia, for similar reasons, will not want Iraq's Shias to realign themselves with Iran."

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