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Western Press Review: A Post-Saddam Iraq, Montenegrin Elections, And North Korean Nukes

Prague, 22 October 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Commentary in the Western media today continues to discuss North Korea's admission that it has been pursuing a secret nuclear weapons program, following U.S. confirmation of this development last week. Other items continue to debate the merits and drawbacks of a potential U.S.-Iraq military conflict. Several items today turn their attention to what is likely to emerge in Iraq in a post-Saddam Hussein era. Montenegro's weekend election and its possible bid for independence are also discussed.


"The Washington Post" carries a contribution today by Susan Shirk of California University's Institute on Global Conflict and Cooperation. Shirk suggests engagement is the preferable way of proceeding with North Korea following the admission it has been developing a nuclear weapons capability. But she suggests this revelation may indicate that the priorities of its leader, Kim Jong Il, have shifted.

Kim now "has a domestic program that cannot succeed without help from the United States, South Korea, and Japan." He has "embarked on a genuine effort to reform North Korea's Stalinist-style economy." Kim could build nuclear weapons alone, but he cannot build an economy alone.

Shirk says the international community should take advantage of Kim's shift in perspective and build on his desire for economic reform by pursuing "a negotiated approach" to closing down its weapons program. She says, "Promising to normalize relations and cooperate with North Korea's reform efforts if it agrees to shut down its weapons programs makes sense," in terms of U.S. interests as well as those of South Korea, Japan, China, and Russia.

This approach would encourage the emergence "of a North Korea that puts priority on its own economic development, and therefore is motivated to be more cooperative internationally."


An editorial in "The Boston Globe" today says the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush should be speaking openly about the "political dimension of their plans for regime change in Iraq."

Iraqis from "across the political spectrum and from different regions and religious backgrounds have been coming together [to] thrash out plans for their country's future. They have extracted promises from Bush administration officials that the United States will support a constitutional government in a federated Iraq after Saddam [Hussein] and not seek to impose another strongman."

The paper says it is unlikely that Iraq will fragment or collapse into civil war if its autocratic leader goes. For Iraq has "tremendous natural and human resources, schools and universities, a large, educated, urban middle class, and a cohesive spirit of Iraqi nationhood."

"The Boston Globe" says: "In the long run, any American effort to topple Saddam will be judged by what comes next in Iraq. Bush and his advisers should be held to their promises to help Iraqis create a prosperous democratic future."


Two German papers today discuss the outcome of the 20 October parliamentary elections in Montenegro, in which Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic's coalition won 39 of the 75 seats in parliament.

The "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" says that Djukanovic has strengthened his position in two respects: He now has much more authority to negotiate on behalf of his small Yugoslav republic with the politicians in Belgrade. Secondly, Djukanovic now occupies a stronger position in negotiations with the European Union, which has pressured Montenegro to remain in a loose partnership with Serbia.

The opposition in Montenegro, which had favored links with Serbia, is now utterly defeated; it has faded away since the demise of former Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic. Of course, complete Montenegrin independence is not entirely in the interests of the EU, says the paper. Nevertheless, the EU still has some influence, since Djukanovic is dependent on international aid. He is bound to abide by the agreement to postpone an independence referendum for another three years.

In the final analysis, the paper says, Djukanovic's "interest in power is greater than his desire for Montenegro's independence."


The "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" discusses Montenegro's desire for independence. "The majority of the population has again sent a farewell message to Belgrade." They are now set to have a stable government majority in Podgorica, but this still "does not bode well for the EU."

Djukanovic has bowed to EU pressure, but it remains his declared intention to eventually secure Montenegro's independence from Serbia. In Djukanovic's camp, there is no conviction that independence would generate unrest, and independence supporters dismiss allegations that it would lead to a resurgence of the "Serbian devil" -- fractious nationalism.


An editorial in "The Wall Street Journal Europe" discusses Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's recent declaration of a general amnesty for all prisoners, excluding those in jail for murder or espionage.

The "Journal" says: "The sudden, frantic nature of this exercise suggests that Saddam knows he is in trouble. He really seems to believe that his recent re-election will make the world think better of him, having invited in the Western media to report the results. The prisoner ploy looks like a similar effort, designed to show he is a popular, compassionate leader. Instead, both reveal how out of touch with reality he is. His recent, weird combination of defiance and conciliation toward the United Nations reveals a similar lunatic desperation."

The paper says history shows that dictators are often more vulnerable to popular uprising than they seem. And the recent U.S. decision "to train several thousand Iraqis for the coming war is a welcome recognition of this possibility."

"The Wall Street Journal" says, "As word spreads that their liberation is coming, the willingness to challenge the regime will grow."


An editorial in Britain's "The Daily Telegraph" says that in determining the future of a post-Saddam Hussein Iraq, a UN mandate would be "helpful" but may be impossible to obtain. "Consider the reaction of France and Syria, both of which sit on the Security Council: France, which has had a longtime special relationship with the ruling Ba'thists, knows that if the regime is overthrown it will lose any hope of contracts in a democratic Iraq. Likewise, Syria, ruled by a sister Ba'th Party, would have even less reason to want a successful American-sponsored reshaping of Iraq."

The "Telegraph" suggests that someone is needed to administrate postwar Iraq in a way comparable to General Douglas McArthur's role in post-World War II Japan. This post "must ensure that everyone in the country and abroad fully understands the scale of the disaster that Ba'thism has wreaked upon the Iraqi people. That is why Iraq desperately needs a Truth and Reconciliation Commission of its own."

In particular, the "meticulous files" of the Iraqi mukhabarat, or intelligence services, must be published -- in part so that "the full story of Saddam's foreign backers is made known to the world. There will be fewer Saddams in the future, and they will not survive for so long, if their overseas foreign colluders are fully exposed to the spotlight of historical inquiry."


A "Le Monde" editorial today says Ireland's "yes" vote on the Nice Treaty over the weekend opens the way to allowing the inclusion of 12 new members in the European Union, beginning with 10 in 2004. The paper says this will lead to the "logical and desirable reconciliation of the continent, 50 years after its division."

However, says "Le Monde," it is now necessary that the 15 current EU members resolve the budgetary issues of enlargement. It suggests redistributing the EU money used for agricultural subsidies, amounting to 40 percent of its budget, as the 10 candidate nations have large rural populations.

But then other difficulties will arise, says the paper, because the decision-making processes of a 25-member European Union have not been satisfactorily worked out. One should not forget the warning from the Irish, who refused to ratify Nice last year "due to its paralyzing complexity and the inability of the politicians to present it clearly and simply."

The paper says a European Union of 25 members promises to involve new and difficult referendums.


In "The New York Times," Howard French considers why North Korea admitted to secretly pursuing a nuclear-weapons program. He cites regional experts as saying decision making in the country is driven mainly by self-preservation "amid ever-constricting options."

The late 1980s brought many difficulties to North Korea, including the loss of most of its main economic partners as the Soviet bloc disintegrated and, moreover, "a series of catastrophic famines brought on by crop failures, droughts, and flooding."

Today, while fending off economic collapse, President Kim Jong Il's confession of a nuclear weapons program "appears to many experts to have been a pragmatic, if ultimately misguided, response to an insurmountable obstacle: a Bush administration that had little interest in engagement."

French says North Korea "desperately needs better relations with Japan and the United States because the former has long promised to provide heavy development assistance once relations are normalized, while the latter controls many of the international financial institutions, whose cooperation is indispensable to North Korea's re-entry into the global economy."

French quotes regional analyst Selig Harrison as saying that, with its admission, North Korea is indicating a willingness to negotiate to end its nuclear pursuits if the United States does two things: does not threaten them militarily and pursues normalized relations.

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