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Western Press Review: The ICC Dispute, Iraq, And The Russia-Belarus Union

Prague, 19 August 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Western media analysis and commentary today and over the weekend looks at the trans-Atlantic test of wills over the International Criminal Court, divisiveness within the U.S. leadership, Russian President Vladimir Putin's suggestion last week to merge Russia with Belarus, and the prospect of U.S. military intervention in Iraq.


The weekend edition of the "International Herald Tribune" carries a commentary by syndicated columnist William Pfaff, in which he discusses the trans-Atlantic row over the International Criminal Court, or ICC. Central European and Balkan candidates for both NATO and EU membership are being torn between competing U.S. and EU demands. The United States is demanding that NATO candidate countries sign bilateral agreements stating they will not extradite Americans to the court, and has already passed legislation withholding military aid from any country that does not agree to a U.S. exemption. Pfaff says the implied message is that the U.S. "will block NATO membership for any country that refuses to do so."

But the EU is taking "an equally hard line," insisting that all EU member and candidate nations support the ICC. Washington "thinks it can force the EU to back down," but the EU "seems determined not to yield." Pfaff suggests that the U.S. forcing candidates to choose may be a political miscalculation. The U.S. needs NATO, he says, for it is "an indispensable logistical and strategic foundation for America's position throughout Eurasia, as well as in the Near and Middle East." European candidate countries, on the other hand, "need the EU more than they need NATO," as exclusion from the European Union would result in intolerable "long-term economic and political loss."


In a contribution to "The Washington Post," former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Morton Abramowitz says three main features characterize the current U.S. administration's formulation of foreign policy: an overload of the agenda, internal divisions, and a preoccupation with short-term interests at the expense of long-term solutions.

Abramowitz says the U.S. always has a lot on its foreign policy agenda "because American interests and influence are everywhere." But he says this has grown "exponentially" since the launch of the war on terrorism. Complicating matters are the internal divisions within the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush, which Abramowitz says are not easily overcome because they are over deep differences in ideology -- "the way the world works, how to confront it and what specifically needs to be done." And these differences involve major issues, he says, "from Iraq to Afghanistan to China," from "alliance management to public diplomacy."

Abramowitz says this infighting "has accentuated stasis or inconsistencies in both policies and rhetoric." The war on terrorism has also made the pursuit of long-term goals more complicated. "The terrorist threat is here and now," he says -- thus, while the U.S. promotion of democracy, human rights and economic development are still desirable goals, "their priority has diminished."


A "Stratfor" (Strategic Forecasting, Inc.) analysis today discusses Russian President Vladimir Putin's suggestion during talks last week (14 August) with Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka that Russia and Belarus should reunite. "Stratfor" says this move will help Putin politically, both domestically and abroad. "In the arena of domestic politics, Putin's plan is a masterstroke. The president's bold pro-Western policies have stirred significant resentment in Russia from nationalists," who may be pacified by Putin's latest suggestion. And most Russians would "jump at the chance to expand their country," says the analysis, so talk of annexing Belarus could help Putin's re-election bid in 2004.

"Discussion of a merger also would prove popular abroad," says "Stratfor." "Europe is critical of Belarus' shoddy human rights record, and the country has almost been kicked out of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development due to policies that practically suffocate the private sector." Washington, for its part, criticizes "Minsk's ties to Baghdad." "Stratfor" says Putin is looking to discredit Lukashenka, and he has no allies from which to seek help "now that Putin has turned" on him -- leaving Lukashenka "in political limbo, where the only bright spot is the exit sign."


A brief commentary in the German daily "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" says it is difficult to discern an American strategy for the Middle East, calling U.S. policy toward its would-be partners in the region "confusing." The commentary says in spite of all the political complications that have or will arise, the U.S. should pursue a policy that emphasizes "the liberalization and political modernization of the Arab world" through a more circumspect approach, rather than with a lot of bluster.


The "Los Angeles Times" today carries an item by Eli Lake, the U.S. State Department correspondent for United Press International. Lake says the United States has declared a "war of words" on Iran, by making it publicly clear that it would like to see Iranians out from under the yoke of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khomenei.

Lake says this "heightened rhetoric reflects a gap between the [Bush] administration and the State Department, which had made clear its belief that reform of Iranian society was possible through engagement" with the country's reformist president, Mohammad Khatami. But the Bush administration rejects this notion, Lake says, insisting that diplomatic relations are not possible with the current regime.

But Lake notes that Iran has "quietly cooperated with the U.S. on Iraq." Iran's willingness to help the U.S. undermine the Iraqi leader is not surprising, he says, given the long-standing tensions and outright conflict that has characterized relations between the two Mideast neighbors.

"What is peculiar," he says, "is that the same set of advisers and Washington analysts who have most vigorously advocated military action against Iraq are now also publicly advocating the harder line on Iran." Lake says, "It now remains to be seen whether the [U.S.] president's war of words with Khomenei will dampen the ayatollah's support to end the regime of his neighbor."


A "Sueddeutsch Zeitung" commentary by Peter Muench examines the prospect of a U.S. attack on Iraq. He says it would be wishful thinking to expect a speedy victory over Iraq's President Saddam Hussein, gained with the support of a dissatisfied Iraqi population and Iraq's political opposition. Given Iraq's geographical and political position, if America wages a war alone there could be "dangerous breaches in global structures." But he says in spite of all the risks, a confrontation with Saddam's troops is not an insoluble military task for a superpower.

Muench views Middle East policy in light of the triad of Baghdad, Riyadh, and Jerusalem. Baghdad represents a threat with its weapons of mass destruction, Riyadh contends with Islamic fundamentalists and Israel is immersed in an eternal conflict with the Palestinians. The editorial says, "an invisible line runs between these three points, which, in the event of war, would be readily apparent."

Muench argues that although Saddam Hussein clearly constitutes a danger to which the world cannot capitulate, there is no way of eliminating this menace with one blow. The only possibility is to exert continuous, unyielding pressure in the form of "smart" sanctions, rigid arms control, and air attacks targeting weapons factories. Muench sees a solution in limiting -- not destroying -- Iraq's weapons potential. This may not satisfy the hawks, he says, but let us consider what are the priorities -- "might, or wisdom."


In a contribution to "The Washington Post," former U.S. National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski says, "There is a right way and a wrong way" for the U.S. to wage a war with Iraq. The U.S. "must consider carefully the consequences of its actions, both for itself as the world's preeminent power and for the longer-term evolution of the international system as a whole."

Brzezinski says the U.S. may have to go to war because the potential relationship between terrorist groups and Iraq's weapons potential "cannot be blithely ignored." But "a persuasive case needs to be made as to why, in the U.S. view, deterrence no longer suffices." He says America must additionally provide a detailed outline for weapons inspections that would define the criteria for Iraq's compliance in terms of the will of the international community.

Brzezinski advises that war should not be decided by the U.S. president alone, "with just a few of his own appointees, without regard for either American or global public opinion." He says, "A sudden launching of war could prompt many in the world to justify any subsequent Iraqi retaliation against America or Israel, while setting a dangerous example for the world" of a new international system "characterized by sudden, preemptive attacks."

Ultimately, he says, "what is at stake [is] the character of the international system and the role in it of the most powerful state."


Two French-language newspapers today discuss former Palestinian Authority treasurer Joueid al-Ghossein's statement yesterday regarding Palestinian Authority leader Yasser Arafat's financial dealings. The Israeli daily "Ha'aretz" quoted al-Ghossein as saying yesterday that Arafat had misdirected funds intended for the Palestinian people into his personal bank account. The former treasurer was quoted as saying he was personally aware that $500 million had been deposited into Arafat's Swiss bank account. But today, Belgium's "Le Soir" cites Qatar-based Al-Jazeera television as reporting that al-Ghossein denies ever having accused Arafat of financial misdeeds, or of having made statements to the Israeli paper.


France's "Liberation" additionally notes that al-Ghossein has been under house arrest by the Palestinian Authority in Gaza for his own financial misdealings.

Concurrently, Israel's Minister of Defense Benyamin Ben Eliezer met with the PA home secretary, Abdelrazak al-Yahya, yesterday to discuss security questions and a retreat plan for the Israeli army to outside the autonomous Palestinian sectors. The PA forces must then be responsible for preventing further attacks against Israeli civilians. For the Palestinians, the question of whether or not to continue the attacks continues to divide the leadership, which has begun discussions on adopting a unified policy for the future.


In "The Wall Street Journal Europe," Russian energy-strategy analyst Borut Grgic looks at Russia's growing energy sector. "Russia is fast approaching its 1980s production level," he remarks. "Hence, a greater degree of attention from the Middle Eastern oil producers to the developments inside the Russian energy sector is warranted. Ignorance in this realm could permanently alter -- even marginalize -- the region's role on the international energy stage."

The Russian oil industry is booming, he says. Russia's oil czars "have largely transcended their robber-baron days. With the help of the Kremlin's firm commitment to market and legal reform, they are now seeking to capitalize on their investments by concentrating on increasing and improving production capacity. To do so, they are relying on Western partners who are returning in flocks."

"Unlike the oil business in OPEC countries, [the] Russian oil industry is largely independent of government meddling in the way it allocates its sales and investments. As a result, the Russians hold considerable advantages over their OPEC rivals." In addition, since 11 September the West has sought to minimize its dependence on Middle East oil, which Grgic says, "has come as a blessing for the Russian energy industry." So, he says, "the challenge is on. Dynamic and growing, the Russian oil industry has already shown its Middle East competitors that it is no paper tiger."

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