Prague, 5 December 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Commentary in the Western media today looks at Franco-German leadership in the European Union, the propaganda machine for a war in Iraq, Turkey's potential EU membership, Turkmenistan's crackdown on Russian nationals within its borders, Russia's growing oil production and its relations with India, and what's at stake for Europe in the case of a U.S.-led war in Iraq.
In Britain's daily "The Guardian," correspondent Maggie O'Kane, who reported from Baghdad during the 1991 Gulf War, says "there should be no illusions" about the 8 December UN deadline for Baghdad to disclose all its non-conventional weapons programs. "[No] matter what Baghdad discloses, America and almost certainly Britain are going to war," she says. If the "material breach" referred to in the new UN resolution "does not happen by itself, [it] will be manufactured, so wringing consent for the second Gulf War just as consent was manufactured with breathtaking cynicism in 1991."
She cites a "glaring [example] of how the propaganda machine worked" in the first Gulf War. In the days leading up to the conflict, the U.S. Pentagon insisted that Saddam Hussein was not "withdrawing from Kuwait -- [although] he was -- [and] that he had 265,000 troops poised in the desert to pounce on Saudi Arabia. The Pentagon claimed to have satellite photographs to prove it."
O'Kane says: "We now know from declassified documents and satellite photographs taken by a Russian commercial satellite that there were no Iraqi troops poised to attack Saudi Arabia. At the time, no one bothered to ask for proof."
This time, she says, "We have yet to see what propaganda will be used to rally consensus for the second Gulf War by proving a 'material breach.'"
An editorial in Britain's "Financial Times" says the joint leadership role traditionally played by France and Germany within the EU has foundered recently, but a meeting this evening between French President Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder may help restart their cooperation.
The paper says the EU's "most difficult problems, such as the functioning of its institutions after enlargement, will be almost impossible to solve if there is discord between Paris and Berlin."
But their renewed alliance got off to an inauspicious start with "a shoddy deal on farm spending [that] largely preserves the trade-distorting common agricultural policy until 2013. France and Germany have since "submitted joint papers on defense and justice and home affairs" to the convention on the future of Europe. But the paper says these proposals merely "papered over the fissures in European defense policy," or "had little new to say."
The problem, says the paper, is "the lack of a coherent intellectual impetus." The Franco-German partnership "is an alliance of transparent convenience." Schroeder, "in trouble at home, is desperate for friends abroad." He "has little idea of where he is taking Germany, let alone a vision for Europe."
Chirac, for his part, is "trying to revive the glory days when France called the shots inside a smaller EU."
In Britain's "The Independent," Donald Macintyre says, "There has never been a better opportunity since the mid-70s -- and may never be again -- to settle [the] long-neglected conflict between the two peoples of that bitterly divided island," Cyprus.
A UN-brokered deal, "which offers Greek and Turkish Cypriots two autonomous sectors within a lightly federal structure, has much to offer both groups." For Turkey, an end to the long-running territorial dispute "would remove one more excuse for the EU to block its application for membership. And a progressive Greek government which actually wants good political and economic relations" with its eastern neighbor "will support Turkey's EU application, provided Cyprus can be settled."
Macintyre goes on to say that "nothing would provide a greater incentive for the Turkish regime to speed up its human right reforms than [a] clear date for starting EU negotiations. It's easily forgotten that that's how Spain and Portugal's newly democratic regimes abolished the judicial institutions which had survived from their fascist predecessors. Or how more recently -- say -- Slovakia, now an uncontested EU candidate, ended most of its human rights abuses."
It might take over a decade for Turkey to gain membership, he says. "But for the EU to turn its back on [Turkey's] new government now is the one way to slow its progress on human rights."
The "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" today looks at Russian-Indian relations, in light of Russian President Vladimir Putin's three-day (3-5 December) visit to India, during which the presidents signed eight new agreements cementing relations between the two countries.
The commentary says these two countries have always been on friendly terms, but "in light of the current antiterror campaign, they understand each other even better." For after all, both states are dealing with separatists movements in their respective countries, Russia in Chechnya and India in Kashmir.
"That binds them" together, says the paper. They are also bound by the fact that both countries are accused of violating human rights in their dealings with separatists. Their agreement on fighting terrorism, according to the commentary, must be viewed with this in mind.
Belgium's "Le Soir" runs an item today discussing demonstrations yesterday in Prague, the Czech capital, regarding EU farm subsidies for new members. The center of Prague was the scene of the most recent protests against the provision that aspiring EU members, expected to join the union in 2004, will start out receiving only one-quarter of the agricultural subsidies that current EU members now receive. The paper says 8,000 to 10,000 Czechs turned out carrying banners with slogans such as "Czech farmers are not the serfs of the EU."
Citizens in other EU-aspirant nations such as Poland and Hungary have similarly become somewhat disenchanted with their prospects of EU membership over the issue of subsidies.
In Brussels, the European Commission called on members and candidates to push for a final compromise at the foreign ministers' meeting on 9-10 December in the Belgian capital, ahead of the EU summit in Copenhagen next weekend. The current Danish administration of the rotating EU presidency offered aspirant nations another carrot yesterday, proposing a 350 million euro advance, the paper notes, in addition to the 1.3 billion euros offered last week.
Gerhard Gnauck in "Die Welt" considers EU enlargement ahead of the European Union's summit next week (12-13 December) in Copenhagen. The commentary says eight Eastern and Central European states and two Mediterranean countries are due to be formally invited to join Europe's political and economic union at the meeting.
The question now is whether all of these countries will say "yes" in their respective referendums on this issue. This will also depend on whether politicians succeed in furthering their interests in Copenhagen. Hungary demands subsidies for its grain production, Poland wants permission to produce 11 million tons of milk per year, and the largest demonstration thus far of some 10,000 Czech farmers took to the streets in Prague yesterday to complain about low future subsidies from the EU.
Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski commented: "We always knew the EU was tight with money. Now it is becoming evident moreover that it does not know what it wants." His words, the commentary says, reflect the mood of the respective candidate countries, which is far from enthusiastic.
An item in "Eurasia View" says a security sweep in Turkmenistan, following the 25 November assassination attempt on President Saparmurat Niyazov, is broadening its scope. Niyazov "has accused the Russian government of abetting a conspiracy to kill him, and is reportedly planning to purge all government workers in Ashgabat holding dual Turkmen-Russian citizenship," the paper says.
The U.S. government has criticized Turkmen authorities for rights violations in connection with mass arrests following the attempt. But at a 2 December cabinet meeting, "Eurasia View" says Niyazov "shrugged off foreign criticism of his response to the assassination attempt, as well as antigovernment protests that are reported to have taken place in Turkmenistan."
Moreover, he reiterated his belief that Russia provided assistance to the former Turkmen officials -- now exiled opposition leaders -- accused of being behind the attempted assassination.
"So far, security agents have arrested dozens of Turkmen citizens, many of them relatives of the alleged conspirators," the paper says. It goes on to cite one of the accused opposition figures, former Foreign Minister Boris Shikmuradov, as saying Niyazov's zealous reaction to the assassination attempt indicates that Niyazov's "cult of personality [rests] on a shaky foundation."
THE WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE:
In "The Wall Street Journal's" European edition today, Borut Grgic of the Washington, D.C.,-based School of International Service says Russia may be "settling into a rich niche" in the global energy sector.
"As the U.S. looks for new and reliable energy supplies, Russia is finding new and reliable sources of income. The country sells 5 million barrels of crude and oil products per day on the international market, second only to Saudi Arabia." Grgic says by "tapping Western technology to maximize production at existing wells -- rather than investing in costly new exploration -- Russians have driven down the cost of their oil and pushed up profits."
He says a U.S.-Russia energy alliance, if fully exploited, "would be great for consumers." If Russia were to unload between 5 million and 9 million barrels per day on the international oil market, "the international price of oil would quickly fall below the OPEC [Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries] minimum target of $25 today."
Grgic says increased American investment could make Russia's oil sector highly competitive. Russia "desperately needs the outside capital even though, until recently, it hasn't treated its investors well." By "helping Russia's private energy companies become a global force," he says "the U.S. can kick its Middle Eastern oil habit, and maybe bring down OPEC in the process."
A "Stratfor" (Strategic Forecasting LLC) commentary says a U.S.-led war in Iraq "could seriously harm the security, international influence, and possibly economy of Europe." Trans-Atlantic relations may also suffer.
"Europe's ultimate goal is to become a superpower," it says. But the United States seeks "to prevent the emergence of any other superpowers. Diplomatic niceties aside, this struggle has shaped U.S.-European relations since the end of the Cold War.
"European leaders fear that a war against Iraq would deal a blow to both the euro and the European economy," "Stratfor" says. The negative effects a war in the region could have on oil prices is also a source of concern, as is the possibility that oil supplies could be disrupted.
Moreover, a U.S.-led war in the Mideast "could undermine Europe's influence in that region and other parts of the world," as Europe's demonstrated inability to undercut U.S. war policy may cause it to lose clout.
European security may also suffer. "Many Islamic militants already view European governments as accomplices in a U.S.-led war against Islam." For these and other reasons, "Stratfor" says "Europe as a whole rejects the U.S. drive toward war with Iraq."
"Stratfor" says the "U.S. vision of hegemonic stability [is], from a European perspective at least, [a] compelling and dangerous prospect for both the United States and its allies."
(RFE/RL's Dora Slaba contributed to this report.)