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Western Press Review: Turkey's Reforms, Balkan Optimism, Debating An Iraq Campaign

Prague, 5 August 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Commentary in the Western media today and over the weekend looks at Turkey's new social reform package, charges of American unilateralism, farm subsidies in the U.S. and Europe, and the ongoing debate over a possible U.S. military offensive in Iraq.


An editorial in "The Boston Globe" says the "unmistakable lesson" to be learned from the 11 September attacks is that the United States, "despite its unmatched military and economic power," still needs the good will of other countries and peoples. Even a superpower needs international cooperation, it adds. So, the paper says, the U.S. administration's insistence on "needlessly" acting alone is somewhat irrational. U.S. President George W. Bush is essentially saying that the administration will call on U.S. allies for help "when it suits our purposes, but we will not hesitate to disdain your pleas for cooperation" at other times.

The paper says this is also the message received "when Bush lauds free trade but then unilaterally adopts steel tariffs that affect Europeans and Russia particularly, or when for blatant political reasons he backs high farm subsidies. The administration also inspires resentment among its allies when it scorns international agreements and treaties such as the Kyoto accord on climate change, the [UN] Protocol on Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict, [and] the [UN] Convention on Discrimination Against Women."

"The Boston Globe" concludes that the U.S. should consider ceding some of its "unilateral privilege for the long-term benefits of international cooperation and good will."


An editorial in the "Los Angeles Times" says the U.S. administration's top priority should be pushing for the return of UN weapons inspectors in Iraq. Aside from what it calls Britain's "lukewarm" support for a U.S. military campaign, the paper says Washington "has n-o public backing from other countries. The U.S. case would be stronger if it went the last mile to push for inspectors."

The editorial goes on to say the world would be "better off" without Saddam Hussein leading Iraq. But it advises that if Hussein "does not pose an imminent threat, if there is not better intelligence on his acquisition of weapons of mass destruction and readiness to use them or provide them to terrorists, don't marshal the troops."


The Iraq issue is also discussed in the German papers in light of the forthcoming elections in the country in September. An editorial in the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" says since the weekend, Iraq has become a component of the election campaign, with many now questioning Germany's role in expressing its promised "unlimited solidarity" with the United States in fighting terrorism.

Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder says he has no desire to participate in an "adventure," while Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer diplomatically claims "he considers a change in Baghdad rule by force as a false priority." The opposition Social Democrats have set themselves up as the "peace party."

However, in the final analysis all sides hope that U.S. President George W. Bush will not make a rash decision on his own and that German soldiers will only be sent to war under an international mandate. "FAZ" concludes that most Germans "do not feel unlimited, but merely limited, solidarity with the Americans."


Similarly, Christoph Schwennicke in the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" examines Germany's attitude toward U.S. policy in Iraq with respect to forthcoming German elections. He says "critically distancing oneself" from a war with Iraq is justified. The U.S. is not making it easy for its allies. It is creating an impression that the way lies via neither the UN or NATO. This reverses the cause and the effect. Since the U.S. is not involving NATO, then the partners do not have the obligation to make decisions as allies according to Article 5 of the NATO charter. The German politicians, however, are taking sides and so might get involved in a war which they actually condemned in their election campaign.


An analysis in "The Wall Street Journal Europe" discusses farm subsidies in the U.S. and Europe, saying both countries should cut back "on their whopping total of $230 billion in farm supports." Brussels is resisting such a cutback, but the EU's policies are much more free on textiles and steel than America's. "So if the EU decides to loosen up on farming, maybe the Bush administration can ease up protections in manufacturing." The "Journal" says consumers everywhere would benefit from such moves, as would developing countries "eager to get into rich markets with their coffee, sugar, and cotton."

The paper says the EU's Common Agricultural Policy also "undermines its grand plans to ease poverty in Africa. It destroys the rural environment and means EU citizens pay higher taxes in order to pay more -- up to 50 percent more -- for food than they should."


A second "Journal" piece today discusses the 14-point social reform package passed over the weekend in Turkey to bring the nation more in line with EU standards. Among other things, the program approved by the Turkish parliament eliminates the death penalty (except in wartime), expands the rights of freedom of expression and association, and legalizes Kurdish-language TV and radio broadcasts for Turkey's significant Kurdish minority. The "Journal" calls these reforms a "giant leap forward," and says Turkey "now deserves hearty praise" for these moves. It is now time for the EU to take Turkey's membership bid seriously, says the paper, and "start negotiating Turkey's accession."


An editorial in "The Independent" says it is understandable to be skeptical of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's 2 August offer to allow UN weapons inspectors back into Iraq. But it says that, nevertheless, the West should respond positively to this overture.

If the Iraqi leader believes U.S. President George W. Bush really is determined to effect a "regime change," then Saddam "might even be prepared to allow the inspectors to go about their work unmolested, simply so that he can live to fight another day."

Even if Saddam is bluffing, the paper says it is vital the world sees him as defying the requests of the United Nations. This greatly improves the chances of building a wide base of support for any eventual offensive.

"The prize for caution is priceless," says the paper: an offensive led by the U.S. "but with participation by other nations, supported by Europe, Russia, the Arab states, and Iran, backed by the UN and international law. It would not, as unilateral action would, further inflame and complicate the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. And it would not risk the breakup of Iraq, if her neighbors have signed up to a declaration in favor of regime change but not the dismembering of the state."


An item in France's "Liberation" by Pascal Riche notes that the U.S. administration is remaining skeptical of Iraq's offer last week to discuss the readmission of UN weapons inspectors. President George W. Bush asserted in the wake of Baghdad's announcement that "nothing has changed" regarding the U.S. stance on Iraq. Riche says the U.S. objective remains toppling Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, and hawks within the administration have stated that this policy will not be modified, inspectors or no inspectors.

U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has expressed the administration's skepticism by saying that Iraq has already had time to hide or bury its weapons of mass destruction, and to render them undetectable. The Iraqi leader is already suspected of having developed bacteriological weapons, and the U.S. fears that Iraqi engineers will be capable of building a nuclear weapon from 2005.


An editorial in the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" describes the disillusion with economic developments in Poland as a "marriage crisis." Thirteen years ago, Poland welcomed freedom and democracy. For years, the people strove for a democratic system, and in August 1989 they achieved this. Tadeusz Mazowiecki, the first non-communist prime minister, did not promise golden days ahead, but he was blind to the fact that democracy and privatization would not bring immediate prosperity.

This has led to disenchantment, says the commentary. Disappointment has reached such a peak that the attitude to the new order is proving negative. In a situation where unemployment has reached 17.5 percent, almost 40 percent of the population wishes a return to socialism. The others are flirting with the European Union, especially with the idea of help from Brussels. But this option, too, seems in danger now.

The disappointment has led some to the conclusion that freedom is a burden and that "only socialism relieved them of this burden."


In a contribution to the "International Herald Tribune," Johannes Linn and Christiaan Poortman of the World Bank say that there has been much progress on the ground in the Balkans, thanks to international efforts. "Across the region, governments are working on strategies to reduce poverty and unemployment and promote economic recovery and inclusion." Crime is down, and the international community's presence has provided basic security, and helped rebuild power and water supply systems.

The danger now, they say, is that the international community "may lose interest as crises in other parts of the world claim attention." While "the challenges remain daunting, donor support is slated to drop in Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and especially Kosovo." Private foreign investment remains low and the long timetable for EU membership leads to a sense that those in the Balkans are second-class citizens, isolated from the rest of Europe.

The authors say: "All partners must stay the course. Governments must take on corruption and crime, [and] the international community must continue to support governments which move forward with reforms. This means sustained efforts to open up Western markets, as well as financial support for investments in safe roads, clean water, and reliable power."


In "The Times" of Britain, columnist William Rees-Mogg says one of the major troubles facing the European Union is "the entrenched opposition to reform even where, as with the Common Agricultural Policy, it has been known for decades that reform was needed." A democratization of EU structure is also needed, he says. Candidate nations "have been presented with a take-it-or-leave-it demand that they accept the whole body of laws of the EU, the 85,000 pages of the Acquis Communautaire, on which there has been no open negotiation. The benefits will accrue only over time. In its present form the proposed bargain is so unequal that the Czech Republic and even Poland may become net contributors to EU funds, the poor paying to the rich."

Rees-Mogg says the European Union "has only too much need for reform and too formidable an opposition to change. The Acquis Communautaire has become a dead hand on Europe. Without accountability, democracy, and national independence, the EU will not survive."

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