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Western Press Review: U.S.-Iranian Relations, Europe's Floods, And Continuing The Iraq Debate

Prague, 16 August 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Media analysis in the Western press today continues to focus on the debate over a possible U.S.-led military intervention in Iraq, amid reports that the U.S. administration itself is divided over the issue. Other issues addressed include the proposed Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline, U.S.-Iranian relations, and the state of the environment ahead of the 26 August Earth Summit in Johannesburg, South Africa.


In the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung," columnist Manfred Schafers says it is clear by now that human beings are altering the Earth's climate. "The weather has always played tricks on us," he says, but there are increasing signs that human actions have contributed to the massive floods in Central Europe this week. "There is conclusive evidence that straightening rivers, building dams, and paving over fields and forests has caused the waters to rise more quickly."

The current floods have renewed calls for action on the environment, but Schafers says this is a complicated endeavor. Energy taxes place the burden on citizens who rely on their cars, while "exemptions for industries that are the biggest energy consumers mean that those companies that harm the environment the most end up paying the least."

Such taxes are "not a means of permanently reducing greenhouse-gas emissions," says Schafers. Ending corporate exemptions would not solve the problem either, he says, as companies would merely relocate abroad, costing jobs while doing nothing for the environment.

Schafers says one country alone cannot do much for the environment; a binding international agreement like the Kyoto Protocol is needed. He says the protocol should be ratified, despite the U.S. administration's protests.


An editorial in "The New York Times" discusses a commentary in yesterday's "The Wall Street Journal" by former U.S. National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft, in which he says the administration of President George W. Bush should not launch an offensive against the Iraqi regime.

"The New York Times" calls Scowcroft "a cautious, deliberate man," noting that he has served as national security adviser for two presidential administrations, including that of former President George Bush, the current president's father. "That Mr. Scowcroft would publicly question the current president on a matter as sensitive as Iraq is an extraordinary challenge to the Bush administration as it weighs whether to go to war to oust Saddam Hussein from power," the paper says. Scowcroft issued a "thoughtful rebuttal of some of the basic assumptions of the case for a war."

"The New York Times" says the point is not whether Saddam Hussein poses a threat to the United States or its interests in the Middle East -- "He unquestionably does," it writes. But the issue "is how best to balance that threat against other priorities."

The dissenting opinions in Washington are making clear that "dealing with Iraq is a highly complicated matter that carries great potential to produce unintended and injurious consequences if handled rashly by [President] Bush."


An editorial in "The Boston Globe" says "America's Iran problem and Iran's America problem illustrate how two countries' foreign policies can be distorted by doctrinal rigidity."

The governments in both Washington and Tehran "have crucial interests in common. But for historical and ideological reasons, neither wants to be seen dealing with the other. In the near term, however," the paper says, "they may have no choice but to engage in some form of pragmatic cooperation against common enemies."

The "Globe" says U.S. President Bush "blundered" last January, when he called Iran part of an "axis of evil" that included Iraq and North Korea in his State of the Union speech. But now that Bush is making clear he intends to launch a military operation in Iraq, the paper says Washington and Tehran share "an obvious need to cooperate" on this issue, as well as on Afghanistan. Iran and the United States both have an interest in a stable, post-Taliban Afghan government.

Iran's former president, Ayatollah Rafsanjani -- current head of the powerful Expediency Council -- and his conservative followers have made it illegal "to advocate dialogue with the United States." But Rafsanjani may also be hinting that Iran might deal with Washington "on the right terms."

The paper concludes that given the two nations' common interests, Washington may just have to negotiate with Iran's conservative clerical regime.


In "Eurasia View," EurasiaNet contributing editor Alec Appelbaum discusses a report that has raised questions concerning the social impact of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) oil pipeline. The report, based on a June fact-finding mission and issued by a six-member coalition of environmental groups, expresses concern over the pipeline's impact on local populations. The report suggests that politicians and pipeline officials have not adequately informed affected populations about what to expect and have not conducted sufficient outreach efforts.

Local politicians have allegedly been promoting the economic windfalls of the project. The coalition found that the lack of information may be "fueling unrealistic expectations among the general population" about both the benefits and consequences of the pipeline. "Many affected people are not even sure of the exact pipeline routes, nor have landowners been provided with clear information about compensation."


In Britain's "Financial Times," columnist Philip Stevens says that war between the U.S. and Iraq is not inevitable. He remarks that many of the hawks in Washington are what he calls "yesterday's politicians." Stevens notes that 70-year-old Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld "first served in his present role at the Pentagon more than 25 years ago." Sixty-one-year-old Dick Cheney was defense secretary under former President George H.W. Bush. And Stevens calls Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz "another of these veterans of previous Republican administrations whose main aim in life seems to be to put right the wrongs of the past."

Stephens says while most Americans support military action to remove Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, underlying this "is a great deal of uncertainty."

"Support for war falls sharply once the prospect of heavy casualties is raised," he says. "The same happens when it is suggested that America might have to fight alone. And if most Americans see Mr. Hussein as a threat, they are far from sure that he represents a clear and present danger." According to the polls, President Bush "has yet to make the case for risking thousands of American lives on the road to Baghdad."


In a contribution to the "Los Angeles Times" reprinted in the "International Herald Tribune," Rachel Bronson of the Council on Foreign Relations says "the rising vitriol against Saudi Arabia" being heard in Washington "is reducing the likelihood that the United States will be able to address its real problems with that country."

A recent Rand Corporation briefing at the U.S. Defense Policy Board recommended that the U.S. demand Saudi Arabia stop funding Islamic fundamentalist groups or the U.S. should consider seizing Saudi oil fields. But Bronson says targeting Saudi Arabia is "far-fetched," as well as "counterproductive."

She says this recommendation "reduces Washington's ability to get even tacit support from Riyadh for a campaign against Iraq, fuels the anti-American belief that Washington is recklessly planning to take over the entire Middle East, targets those who might actually be willing to help us, and overlooks policy alternatives."

Threatening Saudi Arabia "undermines several key U.S. interests," she says. It will embolden Iraq, by undermining regional support for a U.S. attack. It also "adds fuel to the anti-American fire abroad." And, says Bronson, "Like it or not, the current [Saudi] regime is the friendliest partner that the United States has in the kingdom."


In Belgium's "Le Soir," Irena Wiszniewska writes from Lomza, Poland, on how the Polish public feels about the country's anticipated European Union membership. Since 31 July, a bus in the colors of the EU flag has been traveling the country, distributing information and trying to generate enthusiasm for the prospect of membership, amid reports that Poles are losing enthusiasm for their candidacy due to inequalities in agriculture subsidies.

New members will receive only a quarter of the subsidies that current EU members now receive, a figure that will reach parity only after several years of membership. Largely a nation of farmers, Poland sees this issue as indicative of the second-class citizenship they can expect as members of the EU.

For now, however, 55 to 60 percent of Poles still favor EU accession. But the merrily painted EU bus is part of a project that hopes to maintain this level of support ahead of Poland's referendum on membership next year. Rural provinces are not exposed to as much information on the EU as people in the cities, one of the project's organizers explains.

Informational pamphlets seek to explain the history, workings and benefits of EU membership to a wider audience, and to demonstrate how individuals can hope to benefit from accession.