Prague, 18 September 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Most Western media analysis and commentary today focuses on Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's offer to unconditionally allow UN weapons inspectors to return to the country. Several commentators consider this latest move to be merely a delaying tactic in the face of U.S. threats of military action, while others express the hope that Iraq's concession may avert a Western military response.
Other topics addressed include the debate over Russia's Kaliningrad enclave and the West's role in Eurasia.
THE NEW YORK TIMES:
A "New York Times" editorial says the paper "would welcome a peaceful resolution" to the crisis over Iraq's weapons program. The country is being given a final chance to comply with UN demands that it disarm; however, it seems "unlikely" that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein will comply.
The paper says the "best hope" of ensuring Iraq's cooperation is for the UN Security Council "to approve a tough new resolution reaffirming its disarmament demands, with a realistic deadline for compliance. The resolution should include a clear warning that military force is likely to follow" if Iraq does not submit.
If the UN's renewed weapons inspections fail, the Security Council should then "be prepared to give its explicit consent to the use of force." The U.S. administration has already expressed its concern that the Security Council will reach an impasse over the Iraq issue. But the paper says if Washington is serious about pursuing a multilateral approach on Iraq, "it can't expect to dictate every move to the UN."
THE FINANCIAL TIMES:
An editorial in Britain's "Financial Times" asserts that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's promises are "worthless." But now that Baghdad has pledged to readmit weapons inspectors unconditionally, the UN Security Council and the international community "must force the Iraqi dictator to live up to his word," the paper says.
"Given the history of Iraq's games of cat-and-mouse with the inspectors after the 1991 Gulf War, however, and the four standoffs in 1997-98 when Baghdad reached deals on inspections only to obstruct them, there is every reason to suspect" that Iraq's statement of acquiescence is "a tactic to gain time."
It is likely that Baghdad hopes to divide the five permanent members of the UN Security Council on this issue. And the paper says it would undermine international cooperation if Washington were to resume its emphasis on regime change rather than disarmament as the main issue regarding Iraq. This is the Iraqi leadership's "last chance," says the paper. But it adds that for "any subsequent action to command maximum support, it must be seen by all to have been a fair chance."
THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE:
The "Chicago Tribune" also runs an editorial today on the issue of Iraqi weapons inspections. It says the new international cooperation being demonstrated on Iraq may indicate that multilateralism "is showing new promise." But it adds that perhaps the U.S. is now gaining international cooperation regarding Baghdad because it demonstrated that it was ready to proceed without the UN if necessary.
"Other nations had to understand that they were in danger of becoming irrelevant to events in Iraq," writes the daily. "Faced with letting the U.S. act alone and inducing it to act under UN auspices, many governments are willing to go along with most, if not all," of the U.S. administration's demands. But other nations might never have agreed to get firm on Iraq if the U.S. had not "forced the issue by preparing for war."
The paper says the UN's "new seriousness about the threat posed by [Saddam] Hussein is an advance for multilateralism." But it is also "a reminder that unilateralism sometimes has its uses."
In the British daily "Independent," columnist Robert Fisk says Iraq's offer to welcome weapons inspectors back into Iraq, unconditionally -- "just as the Americans asked" -- has backed the U.S. administration "into a corner."
U.S. President George W. Bush wants to go to war with Iraq to effect a regime change in the nation, Fisk suggests. And now, the U.S. is "searching desperately for another casus belli [in] an attempt to make sure that [its] next war keeps to its timetable." But for now, Fisk says, the Americans "have been sandbagged."
He says a review of Bush's speech to the UN General Assembly last week reveals that "a free inspection of Saddam Hussein's supposed weapons of mass destruction was just one of six conditions which Iraq would have to meet if it 'wishes peace.' In other words, stand by for further UN Security Council resolutions which Saddam will find far more difficult to accept."
Fisk says Bush's "sudden passion for international adherence to UN Security Council resolutions -- an enthusiasm which will not, of course, extend to Israel's flouting of UN resolutions of equal importance -- is in reality a cynical maneuver to provide legitimacy for Washington's planned invasion of Iraq."
Peter Muench in the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" writes regarding Saddam's sudden turnaround in agreeing to allow UN weapons inspectors back in. He says that since the speech delivered by U.S. President George W. Bush at the UN, in which he outlined the threat posed by Baghdad, the reaction has not been one of sympathy for Saddam as a victim of his American archenemy. Rather, Saddam has been forced to back down in the face of increased pressure.
But Muench says anyone who takes Saddam's offer at face value and considers the threat of war to be over is either naive or has ulterior motives, such as running an election campaign in Germany, business interests, or a staunch anti-American bent.
On the other hand, he says, anyone who condemns the Iraqi offer wholesale is either pigheaded or has a hidden agenda -- such as the upcoming U.S. elections, business interests with a new regime in Iraq, or blind pro-Americanism. He says one must be cautious not to be misled, while also giving every opportunity a fair chance.
THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE:
A second "Chicago Tribune" editorial notes that America's new emphasis on multilateral action has persuaded several nations to see the Iraq issue in a different light. A month ago, the Saudi foreign minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal, made clear Saudi Arabia "would not allow the U.S. to use Saudi bases in an attack on Iraq."
Following Bush's speech to the UN General Assembly, however, the Saudis said their bases could be used "if an attack were sanctioned by the international community. That logic persuaded Egypt and the Arab League. Some European countries that had opposed a unilateral U.S. attack warmed to the idea of collective action by the UN."
Saddam may accede to the UN's demands, the paper says. "If all the pieces fall into place, President Bush's bold speech at the UN could save the U.S. from taking unilateral action and possibly incurring the wrath of Arab and other nations."
Yet this "would create a dilemma for the Bush administration, which has insisted all along on a regime change in Iraq. If the UN manages to neutralize the Iraqi threat through unfettered inspections, the administration will have to decide if it has essentially achieved its goal, eliminating the security risk posed by Hussein."
As for the UN, the paper says it will have "demonstrated that it has the muscle to keep the peace."
FRANKFURTER ALLGEMEINE ZEITUNG:
Columnist Berthold Kohler in the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" looks at the latest developments at the UN on the Iraq question, seen in light of German politics on the eve of elections this weekend (22 September).
Kohler says most of the great powers and politicians are patting themselves on the back as a result of Bush's convincing arguments at the UN and the subsequent Iraqi reaction, which has allowed for the re-introduction of an international inspection team to check for weapons of mass destruction.
Each in its own manner is satisfied, says Kohler: the Russians, the French, the UN secretary-general, as well as Arab League representatives. "The only ones that stand to blush at an international level are German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, who has repeatedly declared his country would not be involved in any attack on Iraq."
Schroeder assumed this populist policy of giving a simple answer to a difficult problem for his re-election campaign. He assumed that there was nothing less popular among Germans than the prospect of being involved in a war. But now that an imminent conflict has at least been deferred, his no-engagement policy -- which looked like a winner -- is sadly faltering. It remains to be seen whether Schroeder's populism will pay off, says Kohler.
THE FINANCIAL TIMES:
In today's "Financial Times," Judy Dempsey discusses the controversy over travel to and from Russia's Kaliningrad enclave, which sits on the Baltic Sea between Poland and Lithuania. At issue is the prospect of visa-free travel for Russian citizens from the enclave to the Russian mainland. Russia fears that when Poland and Lithuania become members of the European Union, they will require visas for Russian citizens traveling to and from their own territory.
Kaliningrad residents want to be granted special travel status allowing them to continue trading along the borders. The EU, for its part, is concerned with securing EU borders both before and after the accession of Poland and Lithuania. "But there is more at stake than visas," says Dempsey. "The question of Kaliningrad touches on what sort of relationship the EU and Russia wish to establish after enlargement."
She says Warsaw and Vilnius have already begun a visa regime. But if they want to join the Schengen system that has eliminated internal EU border controls they will have to ensure their other borders are made more secure.
Lithuanians and Poles fear the European Commission may try to grant special status to Russians crossing to and from Kaliningrad. Dempsey surmises that the European Commission may end up introducing a transit document for frequent travelers between Kaliningrad and Russia proper.
In the regional daily "Eurasia View," Ian Bremmer of the Eurasia group says the 11 September attacks on the U.S. "created an unprecedented opportunity" for the region. The U.S. policy shift towards Eurasia was "impossible to miss," he says, noting that this renewed focus has several long-term implications.
First, Bremmer says, a new U.S.-Russian alliance based on shared, long-term interests increases Eurasian stability by linking the United States with the nation "with the most directly at stake." Moreover, new U.S. security interests promise to shift the concentration of wealth.
The nations most important to the U.S.-led war on terrorism -- Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Georgia -- are also those least endowed with natural resources and, consequently, the most poverty-stricken. They also have some of the least transparent economic systems. A marked increase in U.S. attention to the region has brought about some dramatic changes already, says Bremmer, and some early yet "surprising progress." He says ultimately, "building coalitions for long-term Eurasian development is the only way the United States will guarantee the region's security and win the war on terror."
An editorial in France's daily "Le Monde" today says Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein has finally bowed to pressure and conceded to allow UN weapons inspectors to return to Iraq. He eventually saw that the United States, in agreeing to act along with the UN Security Council, had reunited a significant part of the international community behind its position, including several Arab nations such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia.
"Le Monde" says it is necessary that the inspectors return to Iraq, as it will quickly be known whether they can work on these inspections freely. Within weeks, it will be clear whether Iraq has anything to hide. And this is the very least that public opinion -- whether in Europe, the Arab world or the United States -- is entitled to demand before any new war is begun that will entail thousands of innocent casualties suffered by the Iraqi population; in which significant factors remain unknown; and in a region as explosive as the Middle East. "Saddam Hussein is cunning," says "Le Monde." But war is "too serious a matter" to not take Iraq at its word initially.
(RFE/RL's Dora Slaba contributed to this report.)