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Western Press Review: Will The UN Do America's Bidding On Iraq?

Prague, 17 September 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Commentary in today's Western press continues to focus on the question of Iraq, which yesterday appeared to bow to international pressure by saying it will allow the readmission of UN weapons inspectors into the country. Other pieces look at Macedonia's parliamentary elections this past weekend and the current crisis facing the two-month-old Czech government.


An editorial in today's "New York Times" says Iraq's offer to allow United Nations weapons inspectors to return to Baghdad without conditions "could open the way to resolving the crisis peacefully and should certainly be tested." But, it warns, "given Saddam Hussein's machinations over the years, the offer could also be an insincere gambit aimed at delaying and dividing the Security Council." Will Iraq really give inspectors a free hand, or will it impose last-minute restrictions that make the inspections largely meaningless?

There is also the question of whether more focus on Iraq will mean less focus on the war on terrorism. The editorial notes that the recent arrest in Pakistan of Ramzi bin al-Shibh, believed to be one of the architects of the 11 September attacks, "is a telling reminder that terrorism remains a menace to American security." It adds that although "there might well be benefits from weakening or removing Mr. Hussein, [they] would not include the dismantlement of Al-Qaeda. While Mr. Hussein is not averse to employing terrorist techniques, and his regime has doubtless had ties over the years to terror groups, there is little evidence to suggest that he and Al-Qaeda are allies."

The U.S. has sufficient military resources to maintain a two-pronged campaign in Afghanistan and Iraq. Where an assault on Baghdad might prove costly is in terms of intelligence. The editorial says: "Washington's global intelligence-gathering network, including spy satellites, cannot be expanded on short notice. If there is a war with Iraq, there is bound to be a deflection of spy activity away from trying to monitor the communications, movements and financial transactions of terrorist groups."

That, the paper says, explains the importance of seeking a multilateral solution based on UN consultations. It is "crucial" for Bush to work with the Security Council, the editorial says, adding: "The first step now is to see if the Iraqi offer to resume inspections is worth the paper it was printed on."


Columnist George Melloan, writing in "The Wall Street Journal Europe," says that following the forceful speech by George W. Bush before the UN General Assembly last week -- in which the U.S. president warned the UN will become "irrelevant" if it fails to authorize action against Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein -- the "VIPs in the chamber sat up and took notice."

Melloan continues: "This is international politics, so keep in mind that both national and personal interests will be in the minds of national leaders when the five permanent members of the Security Council vote on yet another resolution addressing Saddam's transgressions." With support from Britain and France secure, the question turns to Russia and China. Melloan writes that Russian President Vladimir Putin may have been hoping to trade his Security Council vote for a free hand in Georgia. Instead, Melloan writes, "Putin is being told that if he wants to get back the several billion dollars Iraq owes Russia," he should fall in line with the U.S. position.

As for China, the most likely course will be an abstention. He writes: "China's leaders are jealous of the influence that the U.S. exercises over much of Asia, but neither do they see themselves ready to mount a direct challenge. The Chinese economy is heavily dependent on exports to the U.S. and economic growth is fueled with Western investment. With the regime already facing significant social unrest, this is no time to take a chance on any measure that might damage China's trade, and especially when China has few national interests involved in whatever happens to Saddam.

All in all, Melloan concludes, the situation is "well in hand": [Critics] in Europe and the U.S. raging about cowboy unilateralism have been quieted. It has been made clear that the U.S. will not agree to another toothless UN resolution that Saddam can ignore with impunity."


An editorial in Germany's "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" looks at the results of the 15 September parliamentary elections in Macedonia, where the ruling coalition led by Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski was easily defeated by the Social Democrats (SDSM) and their allies in the "Together for Macedonia" coalition.

The paper notes that just 18 months ago, Macedonia was on the brink of a civil war. But the Albanian National Liberation Army (UCK), instead of being driven out of Macedonia by force, instead became the foundation for a legitimate political movement and the platform for former UCK commander Ali Ahmeti to realize his political ambitions as the head of the Alliance for Democratic Integration (BDI).

And so the UCK, the driving force behind last year's Albanian insurgency, "succeeded in legitimizing democratically its dubious armed conflict in the parliamentary elections." The paper adds: "Were it not for the battles, the pressure exerted on the government in Skopje and the international mediation resulting in the Ohrid truce deal, the former rebel leader Ali Ahmeti would not be playing a political role today."

Now, "FAZ" concludes, it is up to Ahmeti to give proof of his capability govern and demonstrate his abilities to deal with day-to-day political problems.


Germany's "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" comments on the current crisis facing the Czech government. The problem arose last week when a parliamentary deputy from the Freedom Union party voted with the opposition, unexpectedly sinking government plans to raise taxes to help pay for recent flood damage.

"The Prague Cabinet," the paper says, "is tripping up at exactly the moment with the Czechs should be exerting all their energy in negotiating the last lap of the race into the European Union." The commentary blames Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla for overreacting in demanding party discipline from members of his coalition partners. If he now rejects the smallest party of his coalition because of this setback, the paper opines, "he is not solving his problems." Until now he has been troubled by his slim -- one-vote --majority. If he gets rid of this partner he will have to face a majority opposition.

In his EU accession programs he would then be dependent on the good will of Euroskeptics or Communists. The comment concludes that "the last lap of the race should present a different image [than this]."

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