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Western Press Review: NATO's Prague Summit, Aghajari's Reprieve, And UN Inspectors Arrive In Iraq

Prague, 18 November 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Much of the discussion in major Western dailies today is focused on the NATO summit to take place in Prague, the Czech capital, later this week (21-22 November). Up to seven prospective new members -- Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Romania, and Bulgaria -- are expected to be asked to join the alliance, which will expand NATO's borders from the Baltics to the Black Sea. Other topics addressed include the expected arrival of UN weapons inspectors in Iraq today, EU-Russian relations, and the ordered review of the case of Professor Hashem Aghajari, whose sentencing to death for blasphemy last week sparked widespread student protests in Iran.


In "The Washington Post," columnist Jim Hoagland says Europe today is "a status-quo power that resists [being] hurried into a turbulent new post-Cold War era by the United States, Russia, Turkey, Israel, and other global agents of radical change." European leaders, he says, need to recognize that they are ignoring "how rapidly and dramatically the world is changing around them."

Hoagland says, "Today's true foreign policy realists try to identify, cope with, and influence the currents of radical change." Europe's habit of "investing effort [to] shore up a disappearing world is a self-defeating endeavor."

These diverging attitudes over what ideas are "sustainable and what is doomed are rapidly becoming divisive factors in trans-Atlantic relations," he says. While Russia and the United States "share a sense of urgency and a willingness to act militarily against terror [networks], Europe demonstrates neither convincingly."

This week's NATO summit in Prague will announce the expansion of the alliance from the Balkans to the Baltics, and herald "five decades of U.S.-European courage and common values that overcame the Soviet threat." But resisting further change will "amount to a death sentence for the alliance," says Hoagland. "Giant tasks will be resolved only if present American-European differences are overcome and submerged into a bold new trans-Atlantic program for global security."


In the "Financial Times," Georgetown University Professor of international affairs Charles Kupchan writes that at the NATO summit in Prague this week, the potential entry of up to seven new members is the "logical next step in the continuing enlargement of NATO, a process that is helping to consolidate the eastward spread of a democratic and peaceful Europe." But, he says, ironically, they will be joining a Western alliance that is "soon to be defunct."

There are three main reasons for this, says Kupchan. First, Europe is strengthening itself through enlargement and improved relations with Russia. Second, it is diverging politically from its main NATO ally, the United States. And third, U.S. priorities are shifting away from Europe, leaving Europe more responsible for its own defense.

In "an effort to salvage NATO's relevance," Washington recently proposed creating a NATO force capable of rapid deployment beyond Europe. But Kupchan dismisses this idea, saying, "As Washington made clear in refusing European help during the main phase of the war in Afghanistan, it does not welcome the constraints of coalition warfare." And EU members "are neither capable of, nor interested in, new commitments in distant lands."

"The U.S. and Europe are thus parting ways," Kupchan says. "The Central European countries soon to join NATO are doing so primarily to get America but, like it or not, they will get Europe instead."


Columnist Ian Black writes in Britain's daily "The Guardian" that Russian President Vladimir Putin did not seem to be looking to charm European leaders at last week's EU-Russia summit. But he says the good news from the Brussels meeting was that a deal was reached over a "serious obstacle to the imminent enlargement of the union" on travel from the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad. Kaliningrad residents will be issued special travel documents for visa-free travel to Russia's mainland through bordering Poland and Lithuania when these countries become EU members in 2004.

But Black, noting Putin's verbal "abuse" when asked by a journalist about the use of antipersonnel mines in Chechnya, says the bad news is that "it is hard to see how Europeans are to have any influence over the appalling situation" in the breakaway republic. With the horrors of last month's hostage crisis in Moscow "fresh in everyone's minds," he adds, no EU leader wanted to push the issue.

Black concludes by saying that Europe needs to work on its relations with Russia on several fronts: "trade, energy, the environment, nuclear safety, and other issues [that] will become even more important when it is right on the borders of the union." But, he adds, Europe also needs to pay more attention to how it will handle its "difficult partners beyond its expanding frontiers."


A "Stratfor" (Strategic Forecasting) commentary says that if a Communist Party candidate wins Armenia's presidential election in February, Armenia will likely seek to join the Russia-Belarus union. "Armenian Communists have gathered the 1 million signatures required to conduct a referendum on this issue," the commentary says. And many Armenians "favor the idea of reuniting with Russia, particularly since the vast majority of the population enjoyed a better standard of living during the Soviet era than they do today."

"Stratfor" says, "Armenia's inclusion in the Russia-Belarus union might breathe new life into the grouping," as there is no great fondness between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka. The idea of reunification "remains popular among millions of former Soviet citizens," says the commentary, so if Armenia seeks to join the union, Russia will most likely agree to it.

If Armenia does join, "Stratfor" says, "it would increase hopes for the country's economic revival, which has suffered from a dearth of willing Western investors. Many Armenian enterprises still have well-established ties with Russian ventures."


An editorial in the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" reacts to the news that Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has ordered the country's judiciary to revise a death sentence it handed down on prominent pro-reform academic Hashem Aghajari. Aghajari was convicted of blasphemy for saying that each generation should be allowed to interpret Islam on its own, without the guidance of clerics. On 6 November, a conservative court sentenced him to be hanged -- sparking protests from students, senior government officials, and even some prominent conservatives.

The commentary says it was clear from the start that Aghajari would not end up at the gallows, but that this case also demonstrates how "the regime has no sense of justice or logic, nor any idea of the damaging effect of its fanaticism on its own people and abroad." In the longer term, the question arises whether this scandal, arising from a conflict with the conservatives, can fuel further reforms.


In a contribution to "The Wall Street Journal Europe," the former executive editor of Iran's "Kayhan" daily, Amir Taheri, looks at recent widespread protests in Iran. "For the past 10 days, thousands of students have been holding daily meetings to denounce the regime and call for a separation of mosque and state," he says. The protests were sparked by the death sentence handed down to history Professor Hashem Aghajari, who was convicted of blasphemy earlier this month for suggesting students could interpret Islam without the help of clerics. A review has since been ordered of his case.

But Taheri says, "Inspired by the student protests, some workers have also staged symbolic strikes affecting factories" in several industrial cities. He says although this is not the first time that students have called for revolt against the mullahs, the current protests differ in that they are "clearly aimed at overthrowing the regime." The students are no longer calling for internal, gradual reforms as promised by President Mohammad Khatami. They are now calling for a referendum to abolish the unelected position of supreme leader, now held by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei; "to separate mosque from state"; and "to establish a democratic system based on multiparty elections." Taheri says Khatami's "vague promises of reform [are] no longer enough to ease the tension."


Christian Wernicke, writing in the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung," looks at the ongoing struggle within NATO between the dominant U.S. and the EU, with its limited resources. Wernicke says without the Americans' exhortations, the Europeans will make no progress in their endeavor to arm themselves for future challenges. U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has tried to spur Europe to concentrate on defense with the Pentagon's announced intention to defend against terrorists by setting up a rapid-response force. At the Prague NATO summit to take place later this week, there will be unanimous agreement with Washington's idea of establishing a 21,000-strong response force by 2004. But, says the commentary, "these commitments must be followed by action, and without additional funds for defense this new sword of the trans-Atlantic alliance will remain blunt."

The military aspect is clear, but politically the matter is still confused, he says. Whereas NATO is due to declare in Prague that its radius of action will spread across the planet, EU troops have not even managed to preserve peace in Macedonia. U.S. forces are once again extending their peacekeeping campaign there for another six months because the EU is incapable of taking on the responsibility. Wernicke says, "The disgrace in Macedonia is one example of the European strategic dilemma in general: that at best, Europe serves as a rear guard for NATO."


An editorial in "The Washington Post" says the purpose of the UN Security Council's recent resolution on Iraq "is not to dispatch international inspectors on a prolonged hunt for the weapons of mass destruction that Saddam Hussein has produced and hidden in defiance of international law." Rather, it is to offer Iraq a "final opportunity" to voluntarily and fully comply with previous disarmament orders."

This distinction is "crucial," the paper says: "It defines the difference between the United Nations' failed effort during the 1990s to use civilian technicians to force compliance on an unwilling regime and a transformative decision by Iraq to give up its weapons and rogue-state status. Only the latter scenario is an acceptable alternative to a U.S.-led military campaign to disarm Iraq."

The paper says it should be fairly clear already that Iraq does not intend to cooperate fully with the UN resolution. Iraq is now required to make a full disclosure of all its weapons programs by 8 December.

But the paper says: "Most probably, Iraq will deliver another false statement to the council, while maneuvering to block the inspectors from uncovering its lies. If so, the administration must be prepared to respond aggressively: It must demand that the council, and U.S. allies, judge whether Saddam Hussein's words and actions meet the test of cooperation stipulated by the resolution."


In "The Christian Science Monitor," former CBS correspondent Richard Hottelet says Iraqi President Saddam Hussein does not have a lot of options. The threat posed by the U.S. "remains undiminished," he says.

But the Iraqi leader does have "trump cards that he has played in the past. He faces no effective Iraqi opposition inside or outside the country. His military and security forces are intact. He can continue to provide his people with food and medicine by selling as much oil as he pleases under the UN's oil-for-food program."

Hottelet says: "Politically, nothing essential has changed. The new, tough UN resolution affirms Iraq's sovereignty and territorial integrity."

"Saddam Hussein can live indefinitely while the UN monitors and verifies that he has no forbidden weapons programs," he writes. And Iraq's president may also "count on the notorious fickleness of international politics." A world community that has not lived up to many of its promises in the past, "that shows donor fatigue and compassion fatigue, may also develop inspection fatigue."

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