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Western Press Review: Iranian Protests, Reforming The UN Security Council, China's New Leadership

Prague, 19 November 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Discussion in the major Western dailies today focuses on the arrival yesterday of United Nations weapons inspectors in Baghdad, NATO's summit later this week (21-22 November) in Prague, Iran's ongoing student protests, revising representation on the UN Security Council, and China's new leadership.


A "Financial Times" editorial remarks that the United Nations weapons inspectors who arrived in Baghdad yesterday, led by Hans Blix, are ultimately responsible to the UN Security Council, which "in principle must decide whether Saddam Hussein's regime has complied with last month's unanimous Resolution 1441." But in practice, the editorial says the United States "has reserved the right to decide whether Baghdad is in breach of the obligations to disarm it." However, it is "the duty of the U.S. and all other council members to ensure the inspectors give Iraq a fair, if final, chance to comply."

Iraq is obliged by the new resolution to enumerate all its weapons programs in a dossier by 8 December. But the paper says Baghdad will likely avoid making a full disclosure. "It will be at that point that steady nerves, fine judgment, and the timely supply of genuine intelligence [will] be critical," the paper says.

"It is equally critical that the Security Council maintain its impressive unanimity and the clarity of its goal, which is to disarm Iraq, not to overthrow Mr. Hussein."

The paper says Security Council unanimity is "the best chance of averting war. It is also the best way of persuading the Iraqi dictator [that] he cannot hope to hang on to his weapons as well as his power."


In a contribution to the "International Herald Tribune," former representative of the European Commission in Washington Roy Denman discusses representation on the UN Security Council, which is currently composed of 15 members. Five "permanent" members -- China, the United States, France, Great Britain, and Russia -- each have veto rights on UN resolutions.

But Denman says providing one seat each to the United States and Britain within the inner circle of the Security Council "is equivalent to giving two votes out of the five to the United States." And there is no representation among the five "from Africa, Asia, the Far East or South America." Denman says "This attempt to run the affairs of the world in the 21st century on the basis of the world of 1945 is grotesque."

He suggests that a "more realistic" inner group of the UN Security Council should consist of current permanent members China, Russia, and the United States, as well as a representative from the European Union; one from Egypt, as "a Muslim country and one of the key states of the Middle East"; India, whose population is only slightly less than China's; Brazil, which has a population comprising half of all of South America; and Japan, as the world's second-largest economy. Enlarging the inner Security Council group from five to eight members "would hardly be extravagant," he says.


A "Los Angeles Times" editorial writes: "Iran is in ferment. Students and political reformers who oppose the ruling hard-line Muslim clerics have been galvanized by the mullahs' death sentence" handed down to university professor Hashem Aghajari, for suggesting that interpretation of the Koran was not the exclusive domain of the clerics. "The peaceful protests sweeping university campuses seem on the verge of leading to something bigger. The United States needs to be ready to welcome change in Iran, possibly sooner rather than later."

The paper says Iran's reformers -- which include President Mohammad Khatami and the majority in parliament -- hope "to ease Iran's international isolation, stimulate the economy, and soften stringent dress codes for women." But their efforts have been undermined by the veto powers of Iran's unelected clerics.

Yet Khatami "has begun to go on the offensive, introducing legislation last month challenging the broad, secretive powers of the cleric-controlled judiciary, which has repeatedly jailed politicians, journalists, and others deemed subversive." The editorial says Khatami's ability to force the clerics to accept limitations on their powers may be aided by these student protests.


An editorial in "The New York Times" says Iran's "pro-reform majority, long intimidated by powerful conservative clerics, is bravely pushing back." In the streets, the paper says, student protesters have compelled the country's supreme spiritual leader, Ayatollah Ali Khomeini, to order a review of the death sentence for blasphemy declared on history professor Hashem Aghajari for saying Muslims should not "blindly" rely on clerical authority.

In the parliament, "reformers have initially approved two vital pieces of legislation that would strengthen President Mohammad Khatami against unelected religious functionaries." The two laws would help redress the power balance "between the popularly elected government and the self-appointed religious establishment. One would restrict the veto now wielded by the powerful Guardians Council, which currently can overturn acts of parliament and bar candidates from running for electoral office. The other would strengthen the president's constitutional authority over the courts, which are now dominated by religious extremists."

The paper says, "After five years of thwarted reforms, young Iranians are clearly running out of patience." The protesters are not just protesting Aghajari's death sentence, but are calling "for an end to clerical dictatorship." If Supreme Leader Khomeini is "wise," the paper says, "he will tell his clerical allies not to stand in the way of parliament's two reform bills."


In a contribution to the "International Herald Tribune," international lawyer Samual Pisar says in the wake of China's Communist Congress last week, "a new generation of pragmatic leaders with Hu Jintao as head of state and party will pursue the movement of sweeping reforms in the world's most populous country." He says after securing entry into the World Trade Organization and the right to host the 2008 Olympics Games in Beijing, China "has crossed a milestone in its opening to the community of nations."

Pisar says the new leadership "is committed to the prevailing ground rules of international trade and the establishment of a business-friendly climate that will anchor the nation permanently in the economic life of the planet."

Pisar predicts that over time, Chinese communism and its state-run economics, will "recede as the party sheds proletarian orthodoxy to open itself to capitalist entrepreneurs, intellectuals, and other productive forces." China understands that "in an era of microprocessors, computers, portable phones, and the Internet, any totalitarian system that resists innovation and competition is condemned to oblivion; that no country can hope to partake of the global economic feast unless it releases dormant human energies, allows minds and ideas to clash and information to circulate freely."

And, Pisar says, these new imperatives will "dictate respect for democratic values and human rights as well."


In "The New York Times," columnist Nicholas Kristof expresses doubt that China's new leadership will oversee massive political or economic change anytime soon. He says while the new generation of leaders is willing to shift economically to a more capitalist-oriented system, they are unwilling to change politically.

Kristof cites a Chinese human rights and pro-democracy activist as saying China's move toward democracy is irresistible -- that at some point, in perhaps 10 years or so, the Communist Party willl have to accept it.

For now, however, Kristof says the Communist leadership is "resisting the inevitable. In a country that has undergone a thrilling transformation in so many ways, [it's] deeply depressing to see a new leadership team composed of timid apparatchiks. China now has 196 million cell phones -- but only one authorized way of thinking."

Essentially, says Kristof, bold new reforms "are difficult to imagine in the next few years. China faces immense challenges [but] the government will tinker with the system rather than provide far-reaching reforms. The Politburo is made up of smart but cautious technocrats who operate by consensus." This, Kristof says, is "a recipe for gridlock."

He says another way of viewing the recent change in leadership "is that for most of the last 4,000 years China was ruled by an emperor of one kind or another. Beginning this week, it's ruled by a committee."


An editorial in Germany's "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" discusses the arrival in Iraq yesterday of UN weapons inspectors, who are expected to prepare the ground for rigorous inspections later this month aimed at disarming Iraq of all its suspected weapons of mass destruction.

The paper says although the inspectors are at the very beginning of what promises to be a long and difficult task, they have, nevertheless, arrived. The return of the inspectors after an involuntary absence of four years may be a historic moment, but only if it is remembered in history as bringing about "an unexpected peace." On the other hand, if renewed inspections end up becoming merely an overture to war, their return "will not be worth more than a footnote" in history. The outcome, the paper says, depends on Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.


In the German daily "Die Welt," Jacques Schuster depicts NATO as an organization that has wasted time in the decade since the fall of communism and has failed to reinvent itself. The organization has been troubled "by an absence of new ideas and complacency," he says. In fact, he says, "NATO is both politically and militarily close to possessing no influence and is ever more losing its striking power." Moreover, every expansion weakens it, because new members fail to comply with NATO standards.

The NATO summit in Prague is hardly likely to alter anything in this state of affairs, he says. NATO "may take the last step toward irrelevance, away from a defense alliance, toward a UN pocket version with 26 full members and agreements with another 27 states in a 'Partnership for Peace,' including the former republics of the Soviet Union."

Schuster says the damage has been done and the only way to stem the dangers of expansion is "for NATO to concentrate on global dangers and intervene on a worldwide scale." The U.S. proposal for the establishment of a rapid-response force is a step in the right direction, he says. If there is a desire to maintain NATO, he says it must not limit itself to politics, but must direct its policy toward a global defense alliance.


In France's "Le Figaro," Pierre Rousselin discusses the Arab world's apprehension over a U.S.-led war in Iraq. Yet at the same time, he says, no country dared to oppose the UN resolution calling for "serious consequences" if Iraq did not comply with a reinvigorated round of inspections. As the inspectors begin their mission in Baghdad, Rousselin says Arab leaders are unanimous in their desire that the inspections will be successful.

Among his neighbors, Iraqi President Saddam Hussein cannot count a single friend, says Rousselin. Each one dreads the unpredictable Iraqi leader who, through his boasts or miscalculations, repeatedly risks pulling the entire region into some sort of cataclysm. If regional leaders could be rid of him without facing any other changes, they would. But in the interests of stability and the status quo -- and their own survival -- they prefer not to take such risks.

Thus, every Mideast regime of questionable legitimacy is concerned about reactions from the "Arab street" in case of a conflict. The recent riots stirred up by Jordanian Islamists are a warning, says Rousselin, and may be a forerunner to the regional confusion that could ignite during a war in Iraq. While all the world wonders if war will break out, Arab public opinion and the Middle East's regional leadership remain major stakes in the showdown between U.S. President George W. Bush and Iraq's Saddam Hussein.


In "The Wall Street Journal Europe," Dow Jones Newswires reporter Masood Farivar discusses the U.S. administration's belief that the "lives of the Iraqi people would improve immeasurably with the removal of Saddam Hussein -- just as the lives of the Afghan people improved with the removal of the Taliban." But while the fall of the Taliban "has brought obvious benefits," today's Afghanistan "lies in ruins and faces a real danger of slipping back into anarchy." Afghans are enjoying more freedom, but "the country has a long way to go."

Outside of Kabul is "a lawless wasteland," says Farivar. "Homes lie in ruins, violent crime is rampant, and women have to don the burqa to protect themselves from bands of armed thugs." The current Afghan political situation "looks dangerously similar to the chaos that gave rise to the Taliban in the mid-1990s." Before Afghans vote for a new government, "they need to repair the ruins of war." And "before they rebuild their country, they need security."

Farivar says as the U.S. moves toward war with Iraq, "it would be wise to remember that the genesis of 11 September lay in instability in Afghanistan. Only by redoubling our commitment in Afghanistan can we reassure critics of a war with Iraq that the U.S. will not pull back once Saddam is removed from power."

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