Prague, 13 September 2002 (RFE/RL) -- The focus of commentary in the Western press today is primarily on U.S. President George W. Bush's speech to the UN General Assembly yesterday. Bush maintained that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein has defied over a decade of UN resolutions, and that the UN has neglected to enforce its mandates. His speech suggested that the credibility of the UN is now at stake. Bush also reaffirmed that the U.S. is willing to act preemptively and alone to counter what it believes is an impending threat from Iraq.
Other topics looked at today include Macedonia's parliamentary elections on 15 September and Russian foreign policy under President Vladimir Putin.
THE NEW YORK TIMES:
An editorial in "The New York Times" today says U.S. President George W. Bush's speech to the UN General Assembly yesterday gave some "welcome coherence" to U.S. policy. Bush "reserved the right to act independently to restrain Iraq," while expressing "a preference for working in concert with other nations."
Bush's UN address also offered the prospect of "a graduated response" to any potential threat posed by Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, "rather than the pell-mell rush to armed conflict" that U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld seem to suggest.
The editorial remarks that Iraq, "with its storehouse of biological toxins, its advanced nuclear weapons program [and] its defiance of international sanctions," is "precisely the kind of threat that the United Nations was established to deal with." "The New York Times" says that after a decade of Iraq's defiance of UN resolutions, "the UN faces a defining moment and a test of its purpose and resolve."
THE NEW YORK TIMES:
In a separate contribution to "The New York Times," former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright says Bush made a strong case yesterday for international action to ensure Iraqi compliance with UN resolutions "or the establishment of a new and, ultimately, democratic government in Baghdad."
She says Bush has "wisely chosen to solicit global support" in this endeavor. But if Baghdad "persists in its defiance, the president has rightly placed the burden on those who oppose the use of force to explain how else compliance may be assured. One cannot insist on the [UN Security] Council's central role in promoting international security and law, then look the other way when the will of the council is repeatedly defied."
But Albright, who is also a former U.S. ambassador to the UN, adds that she hopes Bush will not be pressured into an "unwise timetable for military action." Right now, she says, the U.S. priority should remain the disruption of Al-Qaeda and other terrorist networks.
The U.S. should continue to focus "on Al-Qaeda's ongoing plans to murder innocent people" instead of on Iraq, she writes. The U.S. "cannot fight a second monumental struggle without detracting from the first one."
In a contribution to Britain's "The Guardian," Anatol Lieven of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace says Bush's speech presented the UN with "a dilemma rather than a choice." While Bush made "token gestures towards the UN," the type of resolution he proposed would be designed to ensure Baghdad's rejection, thereby leading to war.
On one hand, the UN Security Council could reject such a resolution, says Lieven. The U.S. would then "launch a unilateral military campaign against Iraq, emphasizing in the crudest way possible the irrelevance of the UN and the impotence of the Security Council and its members."
Alternatively, the Security Council "can bow to U.S. pressure" and back a resolution Iraq is certain to reject, "leading to an immediate Anglo-American attack." Bush's argument that Iraq's violation of UN resolutions has undermined UN authority is valid, Lieven says. However, "U.S. and Israeli defiance of the UN on a whole range of issues has gravely undermined Bush's own credibility in this regard."
Lieven predicts the United States will get the type of resolution it wants, and that "war will follow."
Wolfgang Koydl, writing in the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung," says the U.S. president delivered a "strong performance" at the UN General Assembly yesterday. Koydl says Bush did well to insist on speed. He says it is imperative for Washington to submit a new resolution on Iraq within three weeks that demands unfettered access for weapons inspectors.
The ball now lies in the UN's court, says Koydl. It can accept the U.S. proposal and submit to the resolution. Or it can reject America's suggestion and then watch Washington act alone in dealing with the perceived Iraqi threat. The UN "will then take the blame for its own resulting impotency."
Bush can only win, says Koydl. Bush has used diplomacy well, even leaving open the possibility of a peaceful transition of power in Iraq. Regime change in Iraq is all that Bush is after. And Koydl says Bush "is known for getting what he wants."
THE WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE:
In a contribution to "The Wall Street Journal Europe," Iso Rusi, editor in chief of the Skopje-based Albanian-language weekly "Lobi," says the maneuverings ahead of Macedonia's 15 September parliamentary elections are like an absurdist's dream. Violent incidents are taking place almost daily, and may threaten the polling process. Supporters of the ruling VWRO-DPMNE party have forcibly blocked access to election rallies for the ethnic Macedonian-dominated opposition Social Democrats. And Interior Minister Ljube Boskovski "has threatened Western diplomats with expulsion, claiming they're trying to undermine Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski. Some Macedonian journalists were threatened with arrest as well," Rusi says.
This year, Rusi says, hard-liners on both sides are pitted not against each other, "but against moderates in their own communities." He calls it "bizarre to even speculate that the hard-line [Macedonian] and Albanian parties are working together. Even more bizarre is that the former rebel leader, Ali Ahmeti, now sounds like the greatest champion of the Macedonian state."
In Macedonia, he says, "everything is possible." How else, he asks, can one make sense of a country where the prime minister and interior minister, "supposedly the pillars of the system, are doing everything to destabilize and divide the country"? And where former National Liberation Army (UCK) commander Ahmeti, who Rusi says "started a civil war on behalf of a minority only a year ago, now looks the most committed to Macedonia's survival as a multiethnic and unitary state"?
THE WASHINGTON POST:
"The Washington Post" says in an editorial that in order to respond appropriately to the U.S. president's speech yesterday, the UN Security Council will have to do more than pass another resolution that "condemns" Iraq for violations of international law, or demands "unrestricted access" for weapons inspectors. "To be meaningful, or credible in Baghdad, any new action must set a deadline for Iraqi compliance and authorize force in the event of defiance."
But the "Post" says practically speaking, the U.S. administration will probably not gain the support of the UN unless it can convincingly answer some of the looming questions about its Iraq policy. President Bush's speech "was less clear in explaining why it is urgent to confront Iraq immediately, when the battle to neutralize Al-Qaeda is far from over. Afghanistan remains dangerously unstable," says the editorial, and Middle Eastern and European governments question how the U.S. intends to ensure a stable, democratic, post-Saddam Hussein government in Iraq. The paper says there are "deep concerns that, as in Afghanistan, the Bush administration will not back up its rhetoric about postwar nation-building."
FRANKFURTER ALLGEMEINE ZEITUNG:
In an analysis in the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung," Markus Wehner describes Russian President Vladimir Putin as a "pragmatic politician."
A year ago, Putin stood squarely behind the United States following the terrorist attack on 11 September. "Were it not so cynical," says Wehner, "one could describe 11 September as a windfall for Putin." He has harvested rich fruits for his solidarity with the U.S. Russia has been admitted to the G-7 club of leading industrial nations, and the former controversy over Russia's war in Chechnya has died down. In the future, Russia is to share in NATO decision making. All these changes, Wehner writes, "are the achievements of a single year."
Prioritizing expediency over morality seems to be Putin's guiding principle, says Wehner. Russia might be critical of a U.S. attack on Iraq, but Wehner predicts there will be no outright opposition. Putin is, moreover, single-minded in his aim to modernize Russia's economy and military power.
Wehner says it would be preferable if Russia's reputation abroad had improved because life in the country was actually better -- because a legal system had taken root, a middle class was developing, and investors were pouring into the country. Then, he says, the country's improved image would not depend solely on the person in charge in the Kremlin.
In France's daily "Liberation," columnist Jacques Amalric says U.S. President Bush changed his tactics with his speech at the UN yesterday, while reaffirming his main goal -- that of regime change in Iraq. Having hinted all summer at a one-sided preventive military action in Iraq, Bush has thrown a little multilateralism into the mix. He has followed the advice of the doves in his administration and of foreign governments, and has agreed to give the UN one last chance to prove that it has the capacity to insist on compliance from Iraq.
But Amalric says there is no indication that yesterday's General Assembly session will preclude an eventual resolution authorizing a military response. He says Bush has already prepared by making pledges to the other four permanent members of the Security Council in order to dissuade them from using their veto right to halt military action. Bush has offered guarantees on Iraqi petroleum for those that this interests, namely Russia and France.
There is also the indication that the U.S. will approve, or at least not condemn, the military actions of other states under the rubric of the antiterrorist fight. This works very well for Russia in dealing with alleged terrorists in Chechnya and Georgia, as well as for China, in its campaign against separatist Muslims.
(RFE/RL's Dora Slaba contributed to this report.)