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Western Press Review: Afghan Security, Debating An Iraq Campaign, And Iran's Caspian Bid

Prague, 2 September 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Commentary and analysis in the Western media today and over the weekend looks at the U.S. administration's rationale for an offensive in Iraq, the security situation in Afghanistan, Iran's bid for Caspian territory, and the Western role in the Balkans, among other issues.


In the 31 August edition of "The Washington Times," columnist Steve Chapman says the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush is "groping for a good excuse" for why it should invade Iraq.

U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney has argued that if Iraq's Saddam Hussein developed nuclear weapons he could subject other nations to nuclear blackmail. But Chapman notes that several countries have nuclear weapons, "and none has found them very useful in making others do their bidding. Israel hasn't been able to force its neighbors to accept its treatment of the Palestinians. India hasn't coerced Pakistan to give up its claims to Kashmir. China hasn't succeeded in reclaiming Taiwan."

The U.S. administration has also argued that Iraq poses a threat to other nations in the region. But Chapman says, if this were true, "you would expect his neighbors to be even more worried about him than we are. In fact, nearby countries like Saudi Arabia are among the most vocal opponents of a U.S. invasion."

Chapman concludes that it is now clear why the administration has been slow to make the case for an Iraq campaign: "Because there isn't one."


Britain's "Financial Times" runs a contribution discussing the emerging divide among Western nations by Michael Ignatieff of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. He says the United States "remains the last of the great martial nation-states, one that defines its sovereignty in absolute terms and defends it with force of arms." Europe feels it is beyond this stage, that it represents "the future: pooled sovereignty, reduced military budgets, foreign policy as a branch of humanitarian social work. Americans believe just as firmly that Europeans live in a dream world, made possible by American protection."

Ignatieff says the aftermath of the 11 September attacks "has divided, rather than unified, the West." He suggests Europe should realize "that they are defended by Americans, that their core values of freedom are nearly -- the death penalty apart -- identical, and that it is neither in their interests nor consonant with their values to let the West fragment into two camps -- the Americans versus everyone else." Americans, for their part, must not adopt the mistaken belief "that they can rely for help on themselves alone."


An editorial in the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" also looks at the ongoing debate over a potential U.S.-led military campaign in Iraq. The commentary says it seems as if Europe is more concerned about these developments than Baghdad. Moreover, the EU foreign ministers have not achieved any agreement on the issue: whereas Britain and France are seeking some "acceptable" solution, Germany is absolutely against participating in any invasion of Iraq.

The paper discusses the prospect of a return of UN weapons inspectors to Baghdad and says certainly, one should be wary of Saddam Hussein, but it would be wrong not to give the possibility of a resumption of inspections a chance.

As far as going to war with Iraq, the commentary says every war entails risks and it is worth having detailed discussions beforehand. Iraq's latest conciliatory diplomatic moves should be taken into consideration as well, it says, but Western politicians should be wary of such moves from Iraq.


An editorial in "The New York Times" today looks at security conditions in Afghanistan, and says with "bombings and other attacks still being directed against Mr. Karzai's government, the security situation in Kabul is far short of satisfactory. But conditions are worse in the rest of the country, where warlords, bandits and fugitive Taliban forces run rampant." The paper says the U.S. Pentagon "has aggravated the situation by allying American forces with anti-Taliban warlords, giving them license and resources to control their territory. Enhancing their power can only undermine the central government in the capital," the editorial warns.

Building up a national Afghan army is the correct long-term goal, its says, but there is still a long way to go before this is viable. Afghan Transitional Authority President Hamid Karzai has not yet been successful in bringing together "the disparate factions that have held sway in his country, in some cases for centuries." An expanded international peacekeeping force would help bring him closer to this goal, the paper says.


An editorial in "The Washington Post" also discusses Afghan security, and notes that Hamid Karzai's administration "has no forces and no practical authority of its own in the region, and, thanks to the refusal of the Bush administration to support the deployment of peacekeeping forces outside of Kabul, neither does the international community. In short, the scheme of Afghan reconstruction being pursued by the United States and the United Nations [remains] so attenuated that it offers no sure means of preventing men such as [warlord Abdul Rashid] Dostum from carrying out massacres, and no practical way of responding if they do."

The "Post" says "genuine stability in Afghanistan is impossible as long as warlords are able to carry out atrocities without consequence; and the failure by the international community to respond to such acts or provide the Afghan government with the means to do so only encourages a renewal of the spiral of factional violence that dragged Afghanistan into civil war a decade ago." The paper says the choice now is whether to tolerate Afghanistan's "descent into anarchy or to make the military and economic commitment needed to prevent it."


An editorial in "The Times" of London says Macedonia's general election in two weeks "risks being overshadowed by intercommunal violence." The "fraying" civil peace in the country is "an ominous prelude to the elections, suggestive of a wider deepening of communal tensions." It also comes at a time "when NATO forces in Kosovo are finding militant Albanian activity more troublesome."

Violence escalated last week, with the killing of two policemen on 26 August, "the subsequent arrest of two ethnic Albanians and now the kidnap of civilians by those demanding the release of the alleged killers."

Earlier in the week, UN forces were attacked by Albanian gunmen in what the paper calls "the worst assault on peacekeeping forces since 1999."

The paper says NATO forces have a great responsibility to defuse militant activity at this "delicate time." But the responsibility of "those who aspire to government in the southern Balkans is all the greater."

NATO and the EU should emphasize "that the financial and political support of the West is dependent on the mutual respect for existing borders and minority rights enshrined in the Ohrid agreement," which gave ethnic Albanians a greater role in Macedonian social and political life. "It is in no one's interests" for the agreement to fail, says the paper.


Belgium's "Le Soir" discusses the difficulty faced by European leaders regarding the prospect of a U.S.-led war in Iraq. At a weekend meeting between European Union foreign ministers in Denmark, the EU hardened its tone, calling on Iraq to readmit UN weapons inspectors.

No EU leaders support Iraq's Saddam Hussein, says the paper, but they are divided as to whether to pursue a continued policy of containment or support a regime change. Iraq seeks to take advantage of this difference in opinion, says "Le Soir," by sending its envoys to plead its case in several European capitals, among them Paris and Berlin.

To date, the paper says, Germany is the only EU nation that has unequivocally stated that it would not participate in an Iraq offensive. Other European countries are concerned over the potential for increased instability in the Mideast, if the U.S. launches an attack to which even moderate Arab states are opposed.

But Berlin's line differs markedly from that of London or Rome, says the paper, who are both quick to display allied solidarity in the days before the one-year anniversary of the 11 September attacks.


Columnist Rudolph Chimelli in the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" says "clouds are gathering over Iran." He discusses the increasing power struggle between reformers and conservatives, and says for all the mutual dissatisfaction, it is questionable whether a "final battle" is in sight.

The Islamic republic is a vessel in which discontent is slow to reach a critical point of overflow. He says the revolution 23 years ago entirely destroyed the popular illusion that a forceful revolt could produce anything positive.

Now, according to an Iranian Interior Ministry poll, 90 percent of Iranians are dissatisfied with the system. And never has the regime of the politicized clerical caste been decried more angrily than when it was described as "a group of about 2,000 people who, to a large extent, are related directly or through marriage."

In total, Iran is involved in a profound legitimacy crisis. Chimelli claims the situation in Iran is "ripe for a change." Even though history has shown that great empires are frequently slow in changing, Chimelli writes, Iran is particularly prone to "political eruptions."


A "Jane's Islamic Affairs" analysis says Tehran's foreign policy strategy is often "ideological and unfeasible" or even "contradictory." On the decade-long dispute over dividing the Caspian Sea, Iran has maintained that the littoral states should divide it into five equal sectors. However, Russia, Kazakhstan, and Azerbaijan are in agreement in seeking division based on the "modified median-line principle."

Iran has sought to secure its Caspian interests by prioritizing its relations with Moscow over the other Caspian nations, "Jane's" says, and by "naively" viewing Moscow "as a reliable partner." Some influential Iranian institutions, including the Islamic Revolutionary Guards, "are in favor of maintaining what can be characterized as a policy of appeasement toward Russia."

But "Jane's" says as "Russia, Azerbaijan, and Kazakhstan move along the lines of bilateral agreements, Tehran would benefit from having a cold look at its dealings with Russia on the Caspian, and attach more importance to Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan during negotiations."

If Iran does not broaden its policy shift, "the Caspian will become the price Tehran will pay to satisfy the ambitions of a handful of [its] institutions dominated by short rather than long-term aims."


An analysis by economics analyst Biljana Stepanovic published by the Institute for War and Peace Reporting says while many criticisms can be leveled at the government of Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic, "it does represent an undeniable break with the past and a move towards democracy and free markets."

The new government "has laid a basic foundation for economic reform and for the country's eventual accession to the European Union," says Stepanovic. And economic analysts agree "that the Djindjic government has pushed through three vital laws -- on taxes, privatization, and the labor market -- in a timely manner."

But along with its successes, Stepanovic says Djindjic's government "has made some serious mistakes." It has failed "to convincingly fend off accusations of corruption." There has been a persistent decline in industrial production and a number of necessary reform measures have yet to be adopted.

But Stepanovic says, "Considering the mess that it inherited and the economic reforms it has put in place, Djindjic's government has no reason to fear the early parliamentary elections."

If the Djindjic government "acknowledges that it has fallen short on some promises but explains why, Djindjic's adversaries may find the ground shifting under their feet, as the opposition [has] yet to show what it would have done differently or more efficiently."

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