Prague, 9 December 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Much of the Western press commentary today and over the weekend focuses on the 7 December release of a dossier allegedly listing all of Iraq's chemical-, nuclear-, or biological-weapons programs, in accordance with a deadline specified by UN Resolution 1441.
Other topics looked at today include Turkey's possible membership in the European Union, the sacking last week of U.S. Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill, and the simmering diplomatic row over Britain's release on bail of Chechen envoy Ahkmed Zakaev, despite a Russian Interpol warrant.
Britain's "The Independent" says Iraqi President Saddam Hussein has launched a "weapon of mass obfuscation" in the form of an 11,807-page document allegedly listing all of Iraq's chemical-, biological-, and nuclear-weapons capabilities.
The commentary says that this lengthy dossier, required by UN Resolution 1441, was undoubtedly "partly intended as a dry commentary" on the concept of "dual-use" materials, long a subject of contention under the UN sanctions regime. Dual-use items have a primary civilian purpose but are also suspected of having an alternate use in weapons development. But the paper says Iraq's report "is also an essential part of the 'due process' [which] could avert a terrible and unnecessary war."
"The Independent" remarks that the day after the report's release, U.S. officials began talking about forming a second team of inspectors "who would take a more aggressive approach to surprise searches" than the UN team currently in Iraq. But the paper asks, have these officials "[learned] nothing from the expulsion of the last team of UN inspectors four years ago?" Those inspectors were "accused by Iraq of having American spies in their midst -- an accusation which carried some force in world opinion mainly because it was true."
The editorial says the U.S. administration "cannot change the rules of the game" simply because it does not like the outcome. "No evidence -- no war," the paper says.
FRANKFURTER ALLGEMEINE ZEITUNG:
German papers are generally reacting skeptically to Iraq's official dossier on its weapons programs, which arrived on 7 December at UN headquarters in New York and at the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna for analysis.
An editorial in the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" describes this latest maneuver as a "cat-and-mouse game," in which Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein is playing for time. But the paper says despite U.S. "saber-rattling," "no decision has been made as to whether an attack on Baghdad is inevitable."
Certainly, Washington will now be pressured to present proof to the United Nations that Iraq has been hiding the truth about its weapons programs. But time is running out, the paper says. The reservists have been called up, and soldiers are conducting training maneuvers in the Gulf. But a war will soon be insupportable for both men and materials once warmer weather hits in the spring. The paper says a decision will have to be made in the next few weeks.
THE DAILY TELEGRAPH:
"The Daily Telegraph" says Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's claims contained in the lengthy report on his country's weapons programs "simply cannot be believed." If only the Iraqi leader "had admitted that he still had some chemical and biological weapons, [or] that he had preserved the odd nuclear-weapons research facility, it might have been a degree more convincing." But the paper says his claim to have destroyed everything is an insult to the world's intelligence community.
The previous UN weapons inspectors, UNSCOM, left the country in 1998. The paper asks, "How can anybody be expected to believe that [Saddam Hussein] spent the next four years, while he was unsupervised, disposing of his terrifying arsenal, rather than adding to it and hiding it?"
This dossier is yet another of the Iraqi leader's games, says the paper, being played "to weaken the resolve of the Western democracies and to retain his grip on power. Another part of his motive in compiling it may have been to embarrass European and other companies by claiming that their exports to Iraq helped him to develop his weapons. We shall see" what revelations come from this, the paper says.
An editorial in "The Times" of London discusses the Interpol arrest and subsequent release on bail of Chechen envoy Akhmed Zakaev upon his arrival in Britain. Moscow has reacted "furiously" to his release, the paper says, alleging that Zakaev is a dangerous terrorist. But the British government "has no alternative but to let the law take its course," the paper says. This means that Moscow "must produce convincing evidence" supporting its accusations regarding Zakaev.
Britain would like to avoid a public row with the Kremlin as the West tries to win Russian support for a possible war in Iraq. But this now seems unlikely, the paper says. "Chechnya is an issue on which the Russian leader appears intransigent. In part, he has built his political platform on uncompromising resistance to Chechen demands. And yet he knows that, despite his high poll ratings, the intractable war remains his political Achilles heel."
Many Russians "are now quietly admitting that only political negotiations will reduce or end the bloodshed. There are almost no credible intermediaries -- apart from Mr. Zakaev." But Russian President Vladimir Putin refuses to recognize this, the paper says.
Moreover, Putin may be "unable to counter the determination of the military to press on with its scorched-earth policy" in Chechnya -- a "disastrous course guaranteed to radicalize even the few moderates remaining in this blighted territory."
LOS ANGELES TIMES:
In the "Los Angeles Times," Yitzhak Nakash of Brandeis University says the distribution of power among diverse ethnic and sectarian groups in a postwar Iraq will be a major source of contention. He says since the creation of modern Iraq in 1921, the Sunni Arab minority, "constituting barely 20 percent of the population, [has] wielded power over the Shiite Arab majority of 55 percent to 60 percent [and] over a Kurdish minority of some 20 percent."
The ruling Sunnis know that Iraq's fragmentation "would end their political hegemony and prosperity, leaving them in control of a small territory in central Iraq with access neither to the sea nor to the oil fields of the north and south."
The Shiites, for their part, would lose Baghdad, the "shrine cities of Kazimiyah and Samarra," as well as substantial oil revenue. For the ethnically distinct Kurds, they realize no Iraqi government could survive the public outcry over the creation of an independent Kurdistan in a fragmenting Iraq.
Nakash says the international community must guarantee "the emergence of a federal republic in Iraq in which the [majority] Shiites can gain access to power and the Kurds can continue to enjoy a degree of self-rule."
Yet the Shiite leadership "would need to set aside their grievances over historical mistreatment by the ruling Sunni minority and assure the Sunnis that a change of regime would not expose them to Shiite revenge and tyranny."
Alexander Hagelueken in the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" looks at EU enlargement issues ahead of the Copenhagen summit starting on 12 December, when the EU is expected to wrap up entry talks for 10 candidate countries and may make a ruling on Turkey's membership bid.
Hagelueken sees the summit as a "moment of celebration." Following decades of bitter dictatorship, countries in Central and Eastern Europe will be united as they should be, and peace in Europe will bring economic dividends. But, he says, unlike the political gains, the economic advantages are being strongly contested. On the eve of enlargement, the 15 current EU members are not presenting themselves as "a dynamic economic giant, hungry for new markets," but are rather complaining, appearing "stunted in growth and incapable of reform."
In theory, everything is in order. Economists expect enlargement to bring prosperity to East and West. But this vision is somewhat unrealistic, since Europe has in past decades become ever more dependent on the United States and has failed to implement structural reforms.
The author says Germany is pursuing the wrong track in its economic policies and suggests that the only road to prosperity is through tough competition, not through a social system that requires increases in taxation.
Expansions in the past have proved economic successes. All are likely to profit from the upcoming enlargement, says Hagelueken, provided Europe concentrates on its strengths and is serious about reform.
In a contribution to the British "Financial Times," former spokesman for the Iraqi National Congress Laith Kubba, now with the U.S.-based National Endowment for Democracy, discusses how to ensure unity among Iraq's diverse sectarian and ethnic groups in a possible postwar government.
The key, he says, will lie in the new constitution. "For Iraq to be stable and democratic, it needs to safeguard the rights of all its citizens -- minorities included -- [and] meet legitimate Kurdish demands for self-rule," while allowing other regions to increase their role in government. Kubba says the "central government and its courts must protect the rights and liberties of every man, woman, and child, without regard to province of residence, ethnic identity, or religious affiliation."
In order to protect Iraq's diverse communities, the constitution "should give each province the right to rule itself with a full panoply of local powers and institutions, such as the power to borrow and collect taxes, to regulate trade within provincial borders, to have provincial courts and legal codes, to elect a provincial legislature and governor, and so on."
Iraq's oil and other assets should be divided in accordance with "each province's population and resources."
Kubba says Iraq certainly needs "massive investment in new infrastructure and a national plan for economic recovery. But after decades of repressive central governments, nothing will restore the Iraqis' faith in their future as a nation like a democratic and decentralized state."
THE WASHINGTON POST
In "The Washington Post," columnist Jim Hoagland says the lure of possible membership in the European Union "has helped create a new willingness by Turkey's generals to accept sweeping constitutional reforms and to respect the verdict of the electorate. These changes will free the country's Kurdish minority from the worst features of an apartheid system that has oppressed them and will advance civil liberties for all Turks."
He says the secular military seems to now understand "that it is hopeless at managing a modern market economy [that is] based on individual freedoms."
But Hoagland says in contrast, "the failing authoritarian regimes in Pakistan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and elsewhere show no interest in adapting to the deep historical tremors that have moved Turkey" toward the West in recent years. He says political "evolution" has had "mixed success in the Islamic world, and particularly in the Arab Muslim countries, where militarized regimes in various forms still hold power." He suggests that Islamic regimes have often encouraged either "submission or revolt" among their publics, largely ignoring "the political space between those two alternatives."
And this submission, he says, is often obtained "by army and police rule."
The leading editorial in Britain's "The Guardian" today says U.S. Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill was sacked last week (6 December) from "one of the key posts in any U.S. administration" because he stood for "policies and issues which are anathema to a White House dominated by right-wing conservatism."
The paper goes on to list several of O'Neill's convictions on U.S. economic policy that may have displeased the administration of President George W. Bush, convictions for which the paper says he was dismissed: O'Neill "did not believe that tax cuts for the rich are the best way to revive the economy; that he did not consider Wall Street traders as necessarily the best judges of a good economic policy; that with his background in the aluminum industry he was too concerned about manufacturing; that he was critical of the short-termism of America's boardroom culture; that he was soft on the possibility of taxes on gasoline and carbons; that he spent quite a lot of time thinking about Africa and international economic development; that he was a skeptic about tariffs to protect U.S. steel manufacturers; that he was concerned about the federal deficit; and that he was not happy about the financial cost of a war with Iraq."
The paper says O'Neill "may not have been a very effective treasury secretary, but he was often right."
THE WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE:
An editorial in "The Wall Street Journal Europe" calls U.S. President George W. Bush's dismissal of Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill and chief White House economic adviser Larry Lindsey "welcome news," as long as it is followed by "a new, more vigorous growth agenda."
The editorial says O'Neill "seemed to be a spokesman for every cause except his boss's [Bush's] policies." It says the main problem with the Bush economic team "has been policy substance. Mr. O'Neill never did favor the Bush tax cuts, more recently fighting internally against a second round next year. He also was more or less a no-show on the global economy, on which any modern treasury secretary has to lead," the paper says.
Last week's shake-up has indicated the White House is now ready to take some decisive action on the economy. What Bush needs, says the editorial, "are economic spokesmen that believe in his plan enough to sell it."
Corine Lesnes, writing in France's "Le Monde," remarks that the United States is waiting to make any major statements on the Iraqi dossier until it has compared the information it contains with their own intelligence information on Iraq's weapons development. In order to ensure that no nation was unduly privileged, she says chief weapons inspector Hans Blix took pains to be sure no country had the document before the others.
The members of the Security Council have since recognized the danger that could be posed by the distribution of specific information contained within the document regarding the manufacture of bacteria or weapons-grade gases. Inspections agencies in Vienna and New York will review the 11,000-page document and will purge it of any information that it deems too sensitive or which violates international treaties.
Lesnes says that, moreover, Iraq often includes in their reports the names of the foreign companies that have supplied them with equipment. The inspectors prefer to look into this before any of these names are published, she says.
Lesnes goes on to note that Blix has stated it is unlikely any evaluation can be made before 16 December.
(RFE/RL's Dora Slaba contributed to this review)