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Western Press Review: Iraq's 'Defensive Maneuver,' The Kaliningrad Question, And U.S.-German 'Solidarity'

Prague, 19 September 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Western press commentary today continues to focus on the prospect of Iraq readmitting UN weapons inspectors, and what will follow if it attempts to block the inspections mission, as in the past. Some analysts question whether a U.S.-led military operation set on "regime change" in the Gulf nation is imminent, or whether Iraq's full compliance will avoid this outcome. Other analysis looks at Germany's role in the debate, Central Asia's stance on Iraq, and the status of Russia's Kaliningrad exclave.


A "Washington Post" editorial calls Iraq's announcement this week (16 September) that it will allow UN weapons inspectors to return to the country a "nominal concession." It says Iraq's agreement is merely a "defensive maneuver, designed to undermine support for any new U.S. initiative and mire the United Nations in months or years of fruitless procedures."

The U.S. administration must now pressure the UN Security Council "to avoid Iraq's tactical traps and demand genuine enforcement." Any new inspections must not repeat the mistakes of the past. Though previous inspections detected and eliminated many of Iraq's weapons capabilities, "the mission never located all of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction and was repeatedly blocked in its efforts to do so."

The editorial says sending a military "implementation force" into Iraq with the new inspections mission "may or may not be a workable idea." But it says any new inspections must be "provided with specific triggers that allow for enforcement with the first act of Iraqi noncompliance. Preparations for a possible military campaign [should] parallel the UN process, so that dilatory action will invite consequences beyond toothless statements from the Security Council."


In Britain's "Financial Times," Helen Fessenden of "Foreign Affairs" magazine looks at Germany's role in the debate over a potential U.S.-led military intervention in Iraq. She remarks that German peacekeepers "have picked up much of the slack in the Balkans," pledged "unlimited solidarity" with America in its antiterrorism campaign, and sent peacekeeping troops to Kabul. But she says, "Despite this solidarity, there is a widespread sense in Germany that the U.S. has not reciprocated. Even before the debate about war with Iraq took off, Washington had squandered much diplomatic capital by parting ways with Berlin on issues such as global warming, the international criminal court, and the resurgence of U.S. trade protectionism."

Germany's cooperation with the U.S. has won Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder no increased influence, she says. In the middle of a reelection campaign that places him even with his challenger in the polls, Schroeder "put Iraq at the center of his campaign" by promising Germany would not participate in an Iraq attack -- and he "soon saw his standing in the polls improve."

Schroeder might have a difficult time if he is reelected and the U.S. then pursues an Iraq war, says Fessenden, though he has left open the possibility of America using its bases in Germany. But the "bellicose rhetoric" of Washington's hawks, she says, has done much to alienate a "crucial ally."


A commentary in the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" discusses the latest developments in the dispute between Russia and the European Union over travel between Russia's Kaliningrad exclave and the main part of Russia. Russia has strongly objected to the suggestion that Kaliningrad residents will have to acquire visas in order to cross the EU territory that will separate the exclave from the rest of Russia, if Poland and Lithuania join the EU as expected in 2004.

Both the EU and Russia are now making some conciliatory moves, says the commentary. The government in Vilnius has always closed its eyes regarding the illicit dealings by some travelers on the Kaliningrad-Russia route, while Russia has always been more concerned with the broader issues of sovereignty. But Russia no longer insists on visa-free travel between Kaliningrad and the rest of the country, and the European Commission yesterday proposed introducing special travel passes for Kaliningrad residents.

In other words, the paper says, the EU is backing down from its initial stance that Russia's suggestion would allow a non-EU member to get as good a deal as those countries actually joining the union.

"The EU Commission has acquiesced," the paper says.


In a contribution to "The Los Angeles Times," Philip Gordon and Michael O'Hanlon of the Brookings Institution debate whether Iraq's decision on 16 September to readmit UN weapons inspectors will help or hurt the long-standing attempt to disarm the regime.

The authors says optimists will insist that UN inspections were somewhat successful in the 1990s, and that continuing inspections and deterrence is preferable to war. Skeptics, on the other hand, might worry that Saddam Hussein is agreeing to renewed inspections merely to delay any military moves, and that he will "obstruct the work of inspectors once the threat of a U.S. invasion recedes."

Gordon and O'Hanlon say at least the U.S. administration has "managed to make the threat of war real enough" to convince Iraq to acquiesce to inspections. But the U.S. must now keep pushing Iraq's disarmament as "the core demand that must be met" before sanctions can be lifted, rather than Iraq's merely allowing new inspections.

A new UN resolution is needed to formally inform Iraq of the "consequences of non-compliance," they say. This stronger resolution must demand that Iraq "vigorously" disarm, submit to long-term monitoring of its weapons capabilities, and follow restrictions on the technologies it imports.

As it now stands, say the authors, Iraq's agreement "is not quite good enough."


An analysis in "Eurasia View" says regional officials speaking at the 17 September Eurasia summit "generally opposed the concept of unilateral U.S. military action" in Iraq. Instead, they overwhelmingly agreed that the UN should "exhaust all hope" of ensuring Iraq's compliance on weapons inspections before any military action is taken.

In its pursuit of the war on terrorism, the United States has "eroded decades of Russian influence in Georgia, Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan and elsewhere by providing large amounts of aid and military support." But the paper says these countries, "by refusing to back American interpretations of the Iraq problem, are revealing that the new alliance may be less firm than previously believed." Regional governments are falling more into line with Russia's assertions on the Iraq issue.

The paper says as Afghanistan "struggles to make the transition to a stable state, countries in the region are looking for investment and strong protectors. With Russia firmly opposed to any rupture in Iraq and the diplomacy-minded European Union about to consider enlarging eastward, Central Asian and Caucasian leaders appear unwilling to instantly adopt American views of an unstable region."

Some observers say Central Asian leaders may now "feel more indispensable to the United States than beholden to it."


In Belgium's "Le Soir," Philippe Regnier discusses the European Commission's (EC) proposal yesterday to facilitate travel for the inhabitants of Russia's Kaliningrad exclave into Russia proper. When Poland and Lithuania join the European Union, most likely in 2004, Kaliningrad will be sandwiched between EU member nations and the Baltic Sea. Russia has insisted that Kaliningrad residents not require visas to travel through their EU neighbors en route to the Russian homeland. The European Union, in turn, was concerned over the integrity of its borders, should visa-free travel between Russia and the exclave be allowed. Regnier says this issue has long threatened to poison Russian-EU relations.

The EC has now proposed the creation of a special transit pass, which will allow Russian citizens to travel freely to and from Kaliningrad, mainly via Lithuania. A list of people who have a justifiable need to transit this corridor frequently will be supplied by the Russian authorities. The documents, which will be available at little or no cost, will then be issued by the consulates of the candidate nations. Regnier says this longstanding and thorny issue should finally be settled at the EU-Russia summit scheduled for November.


A "Washington Post" editorial today suggests Russian President Vladimir Putin is attempting to portray a potential Russian military offensive in Georgia as comparable to the U.S.-led antiterrorism campaign. The paper calls this a "stunningly brazen attempt to cloak an old-fashioned threat of military aggression" in terms of the U.S. administration's new "doctrine of preemption." This maneuver has been accompanied by what the paper calls a "cynical suggestion of quid pro quo: Allow Russia to crush Georgian sovereignty, Mr. Putin hints, and he just might acquiesce in the enforcement of the UN-ordered disarmament of Iraq."

Putin insists that Georgia's Pankisi Gorge has become a hideout for Chechen rebel fighters. "Putin insists that these are terrorists, indistinguishable from Al-Qaeda, and that Georgia is allowing them to operate training camps and pass freely across the border." But the paper says the "evidence is scant" that Al-Qaeda operatives are present in Pankisi. Putin's true aim, says the "Post," is to "distract attention from a recent series of military disasters in Chechnya," and to use the leverage of Russia's veto right on a UN Security Council resolution on Iraq to reestablish control over Georgia.

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