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Western Press Review: The Future Of The EU And Turkey, Zakaev's Release, And Iranian Attempts At Reform

Prague, 6 December 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Commentary and analysis in the Western media today looks at the future of the European Union ahead of next week's enlargement summit in Copenhagen, the ongoing UN weapons inspections in Iraq, the Danish government's release of Chechen envoy Ahmed Zakaev, Turkey's potential membership in the EU, and attempts at reform in Iran, among other issues.


An editorial in "The New York Times" says the "active cooperation of the Baghdad regime" will be necessary to ensure full Iraqi disarmament. This weekend's 8 December deadline for Iraq to declare all its nonconventional-weapons programs "will bring the first clear indication of whether [President] Saddam Hussein intends to work with the UN."

The ultimate objective is for Iraq "to get rid of its biological and chemical arms and missiles [and] abandon its efforts to develop nuclear weapons." This can be accomplished in either of two ways. Iraq can make a full disclosure of its weapons arsenal by the weekend deadline, and then cooperate with the UN to destroy the arms. Otherwise, the United States "is likely to use military force to disarm Iraq. A peaceful resolution would be far preferable," says the paper.

"The New York Times" says, "No matter how tough and clever the inspectors are, [there] is no way a group of 100 or so arms experts [can] discover whether substantial caches of illegal weapons have been hidden away beneath the desert, at army bases or in seemingly innocent commercial or residential buildings. For that, they will need cooperation from knowledgeable Iraqis."

Baghdad must not only grant the inspectors access to all relevant weapons sites, but it must "make the scientists and technicians who worked on these programs available to answer [the UN inspectors'] questions."


The European Union summit in Copenhagen on 12-13 December will endorse the admission of 10 new members, and the accession of Bulgaria, Romania, and the Balkans states is expected in years to come.

In the "Financial Times," columnist Philip Stephens says that within 10 or 20 years, EU boundaries may have been extended "from the Atlantic coast of Ireland to the borders of Syria, Iraq, and Iran, from the Baltic to the Black Sea." This expansion "will have transformed the EU's strategic purpose, remade its cultural and ethnic mix and completely reshaped its economic future."

With the Soviet empire now gone, Stephens says "the strategic imperative is to blur the East-West divide." The strategic threats for Europe are no longer wars between its members. The dangers, he says, "lie on the periphery, in instability in the Balkans, in tyranny and corruption in Ukraine, in the terrorism of Al-Qaeda, in chaos in the Caucasus, and in conflicts in the Near and Middle East."

The EU must work to encourage "liberal democracy and prosperity in the states about to join the union," Stephens says. But it will not accomplish this by "imposing draconian conditions on admission and by denying newcomers privileges available to the rest."

Instead, the EU must extend its offer to the next wave of possible entrants, offering "the incentive of eventual membership in return for reform and good governance."


An editorial in Britain's "The Guardian" discusses the possibility of Turkish membership in the European Union. Next week's EU summit in Copenhagen may "finally decide, once and for all, whether Turkey does or does not belong to Europe."

The paper cautions that rejecting Turkey's membership bid "at the very moment of the EU's largest-ever enlargement could be a defining choice. Europe as an ideal, as an inclusive, cooperative project and as a political, economic and legal entity would have discovered its limits -- and its limitations."

"The Guardian" writes: "The problems of Turkish EU membership are many and should not be minimized. It is a relatively poor country with a large population whose assimilation will be long and complex." But the main, often unspoken, arguments against Turkey's membership "rest on prejudice, ignorance, and selfishness," says the paper.

Ultimately, Europe "cannot be defined solely by geography, income, religion, or strategic calculation. Europe is an idea. And Europe in the 21st century is what we make it, freed from the chains of history and united by a common future vision."

And the paper says, there is no good reason why Turkey should be left out of this future.


Writing in the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung," Klaus-Dieter Frankenberger says, "Dishonesty has been the basis of the European-Turkish relationship for years." This refers to past promises of prospective EU membership for Turkey, which the commentary says, "have been carried away by a cynical conviction that the internal state of Turkey would never allow an accession process to cross the line from a promise to a political reality."

Now, though, the ball is in the European court, because the government in Ankara is "fervently trying to meet the catalogue of requirements set by the European Union." Frankenberger notes that even if Turkey shifts away from radical forms of Islamism, this will not refute the basic European objection to embracing Turkey, "because Europe and Turkey are separated by more than just a deficit of reforms."

Frankenberger warns that an acceptance of Turkey would mean "a de-Europeanized EU."


An item in the current edition of Britain's "The Economist" weekly says it is hard to determine whether Turkey should join the EU without defining "what the ultimate purpose of the EU is."

The European Union "is plainly becoming a hybrid: much more than just a free-trade area but much less than a superstate." But "why should geography, or religion, dictate who might join?" the magazine asks. "If the European idea is to inspire, it ought to be about values, not maps or tribes. Countries that can subscribe to the core values of democracy and freedom should be eligible as candidates, be they Slavs or Muslims, and no matter how far they are in miles from Paris or Berlin."

"At some point," the magazine remarks, "any club bumps into the danger of growing so big that the benefits of belonging to it are diluted." But the reasons for including Turkey are strong. Turkey "straddles East and West. [As] a long-standing NATO member, it has been a crucial part of Europe's defenses. It has been a beacon of good sense in a combustible bit of the world."

But perhaps most important, the magazine says the EU's inclusion of Turkey could "send a message to the troubled Muslim world of today: [that] the West does not consider Islam and democracy incompatible as long as Islam doesn't."


"The Wall Street Journal Europe" discusses the release of Chechen envoy Akhmed Zakaev from a Danish jail earlier this week, after Copenhagen rejected an extradition request from Russia. But the paper says Zakaev "is a free man only in the strictest sense." The Kremlin has made clear it intends to pursue the Chechen negotiator wherever he goes.

The paper notes that "[as] recently as last autumn, Mr. Zakaev was considered a credible negotiating partner for the Kremlin. But President Vladimir Putin has preferred a military rather than a diplomatic solution to the senseless, bloody war in Chechnya. The deadly siege by Chechen terrorists of a Moscow theater in October only hardened the Kremlin's stance: Suddenly, Mr. Zakaev and other moderate Chechen leaders were 'terrorists.'"

The paper says Denmark "bravely bucked political pressure from Russia" in refusing the extradition. "By upholding its own standards, the Danes shed light on glaring shortcomings with the rule of law in Russia itself." Russia "certainly had enough show-trials against political opponents in the last century to make its modern-day concepts of justice suspect," the paper says.

The Kremlin "would do better to shelve its anger and reconsider its claims that Chechen terrorism is the root of its problem. [Until] the Kremlin changes tack, we're likely to see no improvement for either Russians or Chechens."


The Swiss daily "Neue Zuercher Zeitung" discusses what it calls Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's "avoidance tactics." Sharon, unlike other right-wing politicians in Israel, does not openly declare his complete rejection of the Palestinians' right to an independent state. Part of this can be attributed to the fact that he has February elections in mind, and Sharon is aware that the majority of the Israeli electorate favors the establishment of a Palestinian state.

More importantly, an outright denial of a future Palestinian state would place Sharon at odds with the U.S. administration's policy of seeking a two-state solution.

Sharon has agreed "in principle" to a peace plan elaborated by Washington, the European Union, the UN, and Russia for a provisional Palestinian state in parts of the Israeli-occupied territories. But Sharon made his agreement subject to certain provisos -- notably a complete cessation of Palestinian attacks and a functional democracy in Palestine. Moreover, Sharon refuses to consider a binding timetable.

The paper says ultimately, the Israeli prime minister is denying the possibility of forming a Palestinian state. Sharon does not have the slightest intention of permitting a viable Palestinian state in the Gaza Strip or Transjordan. And as long as Palestinian nationalists and religious extremists continue with the terrorist attacks that discredit their cause, Sharon's "evasive and veiled maneuvers will continue to bring political dividends, both in Israeli elections and in Washington."


In "The Boston Globe," Jeff Jacoby says the U.S. State Department "has finally come out [in] support of the hundreds of thousands of Iranians who have been demonstrating for an end to the country's ruthless Islamic dictatorship."

The State Department had been pursuing "a soft policy of diplomatic engagement with Iran. For months, the department kept making approving noises about Tehran's 'cooperation' with the U.S. campaigns against Afghanistan and Iraq, and pushed the notion that there are 'reformers' in the Iranian regime whose support America should cultivate."

But the State Department "had nothing to say about the Iranian students who have been risking life and limb to challenge the tyrants responsible for turning Iran into a hellhole of fascist repression."

The "extraordinary" protests taking place "in Tehran, Tabriz, and Isfahan evoke memories of 1989, when pro-democracy demonstrations drew massive throngs into the streets of Eastern Europe and China." Jacoby notes that in Europe, "those demonstrations led to freedom; in China, they led to the massacre around Tiananmen Square."

"Which way Iran will go -- the toppling of the dictatorship or a brutal crackdown on the demonstrators -- there is no way to know." But Jacoby says, "Every friend of liberty should be cheering on Iran's people as loudly and encouragingly as possible."


An analysis by Baudouin Loos in Belgium's "Le Soir" discusses Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's professed vision of a Palestinian state. Loos says Sharon's recent statements at the Institute of Strategic Studies on 4 December and at a press conference the following day have, once again, displayed Sharon's political skills.

The Israeli prime minister affirmed that he would agree to a U.S. plan for the creation of a temporary Palestinian state, comprised of 40 percent of the West Bank and 75 percent of the Gaza Strip. But Sharon also placed a number of conditions on this understanding, including a complete cessation of Palestinian violence, which Loos says gives extremists an effective veto right over the process. Moreover, Sharon insists that the Palestinian Authority must reform and is seeking to marginalize Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, who, according to Sharon, does not want peace.

Loos notes several Israeli commentators have already remarked that Sharon's accommodating rhetoric may have much to do with his bid for re-election, as he is well aware most Israelis support the creation of a Palestinian state. It may be a question of Sharon positioning himself toward the center, says Loos. He notes that Israel's new, moderate Labor Party leader, Amram Mitzna, dismissed Sharon's "election slogans" by saying that Sharon will not succeed in fooling Israeli voters with dishonest promises that amount to mere words.


An item in the European edition of "The Wall Street Journal Europe" discusses the ongoing demonstrations for reform in Iran, which have been taking place almost daily for the past few weeks. The demonstrations initially began in protest of the death sentence for blasphemy handed down to Professor Hashem Aghajari. Aghajari was arrested for saying Muslim laymen could interpret the Koran without the aid of Islamic clerics.

The paper notes that 65 percent "of Iran's population is under the age of 25." They are also largely pro-Western. "American television programs are beamed down via satellite. Repression has spawned a lively underground subculture as rich as anything that existed in the underground during the communist dictatorships in Central and Eastern Europe."

The paper says: "All of this activity is now boiling to the surface and threatening the mullahs. The theocracy has lost two of its most powerful sources of control -- moral authority and political legitimacy." The mullahs "now rule by coercion alone. They can arrest dissidents, try them in their puppet courts, and even hang them." But the paper says, "The seething revolt against clerical authoritarianism only draws strength from each violation of human rights."

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