Prague, 13 December 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Discussion in the major Western dailies today addresses the EU's decision to postpone setting a firm date for membership talks with Turkey until after another progress review in December 2004, the interception and subsequent release of a ship delivering Scud missiles from North Korea to Yemen, the controversy over the possible extradition of Chechen envoy Akhmed Zakaev to Russia on terrorism charges, the declining image of the United States in the eyes of the world, the roots and rhetoric of global terrorism, and the continuing quandaries on Serbia's political scene, among other issues.
THE NEW YORK TIMES:
A "New York Times" editorial says that by "failing to set a swift timetable for Turkish membership, the European Union has fumbled its chance to make an enormous contribution toward integrating Turkey into the West." In spite of urgings from the United States, Britain, Turkey's newly elected government, and others, the EU chose to postpone discussing Ankara's membership until December 2004. "This is a needless and damaging delay," says the paper, "particularly now that Turkey has elected a party with Islamic roots and a pro-Western orientation, a rare combination that could serve as a model for other Muslim states."
"The New York Times" says the EU's approach is neither farsighted nor straightforward. "Turkey's candidacy was accepted in principle three years ago but has been held up by a series of concerns -- some legitimate, like human rights, others merely a facade for anti-Muslim prejudice." The paper concludes that this "should be the last delay Turkey is asked to accept."
THE WASHINGTON POST:
A "Washington Post" editorial today says the 9 December seizure of a North Korean ship carrying 15 Scud missiles bound for Yemen started off looking like "a practical example of the [U.S.] administration's muscular new policy of preemptive action." But the paper says that all changed once the ship and its cargo were handed over to Yemen. It adds, "Now the episode stands as an illustration of why that much-discussed doctrine is looking more formidable on paper than in the real world."
The paper calls Yemen's claim that it was importing the North Korean missiles for defense purposes "absurd," adding, "The Scud is an offensive weapon whose most common use has been to murder civilians in cities." But for the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush, this consideration, and even "its own preemption principle, seem to have been outweighed by the perceived advantages of continuing a partnership [with] the Yemeni regime" in the war on terrorism.
The paper says it is important that the United States acts to minimize the threat of rogue states producing or distributing major weapons. But "it is not enough to issue papers about this principle," says the paper. "Sooner or later, it will be necessary to act on it."
The leading editorial in the British daily "The Guardian" today calls for the British home secretary to reject Moscow's request for the extradition of Chechen envoy Akhmed Zakaev to Russia to be tried on terrorism charges. Zakaev was detained in October in Copenhagen on an Interpol warrant issued by the Kremlin. "But after a meticulous inquiry," the paper says, Denmark was unconvinced by Russia's claims "and set Mr. Zakaev free."
Danish authorities noted that witnesses' statements against Zakaev, in some cases, had been made "up to seven years after the alleged offences occurred." It remained "unclear what, if any, role Mr. Zakaev had played in specified incidents." Some testimony "lacked precision," according to the Danes, and "appeared to be based on hearsay," the paper says. And Russia supplied "no evidence to support claims that the accused was involved in planning the Moscow theater siege that began on October 23."
The paper calls the extradition request "without merit," and says Russia's attempts to prosecute Zakaev are primarily a political, rather than legal, matter. "His real offense is to have become a persuasive champion of non-violent Chechen self-determination," it says. Russian President Vladimir Putin refuses "to talk to Chechnya's elected leaders and is devising a new, made-in-Moscow constitution" for Chechnya with pro-Russia Chechen leaders. The paper says this endeavor is doomed to failure and urges Putin to seek a more "constructive" solution.
THE INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE:
In a contribution to the "International Herald Tribune," former U.S. Undersecretary of State Ronald Spiers says the United States has carelessly dissipated much of the goodwill formerly extended it by the rest of the world. The United States, he says, "is blessed by geography, resources, a diverse and vigorous population, an open political and economic culture that maximizes productivity, and human freedom. I fear that we have squandered many of the advantages that these strengths should bring."
The United States "would be better off to laud our virtues less and concentrate on ensuring that our actions speak well for us, as they did in the era of the Marshall Plan, the formation of NATO and the United Nations, and [the] creative acts of the early post-World War Two period." A "unilateralist mind-set" has now taken hold of much of the U.S. leadership and citizenry. "There is too much 'If you're not with us you're against us'" type of rhetoric, Spiers says. There is often a "heavy-handed insistence that others adapt to our political needs even as we were dismissive of theirs."
Spiers quotes an unidentified diplomat as saying many view the United States "as a swaggering giant -- roughshod, pushy, condescending, self-certain -- [who] wants to impose a materialistic, sex- and money- and consumption-obsessed culture on us in the name of 'democracy.'" This perception, the diplomat adds, "is real and it is growing."
THE WASHINGTON POST:
In a contribution to "The Washington Post," Editor in Chief Ramzy Baroud of palestinechronicle.com says the use of the word "terrorism" has become "pretentious" and "tainted." Baroud says there is now a meaningless, "ritual condemnation of terrorism that is necessary for all who wish to be accepted into civil societies, especially in the West."
Baroud says he condemns all types of terrorism, "if terrorism means the murder of innocent people for the sake of gaining political influence, or for inflicting punishment or simply to advance an argument."
But terrorism today "is seen only in one context: the effect, but never the cause, as though suicide bombings [and] the Moscow theater hostage crisis [were] born in a vacuum." He says the suffering of the Chechen population "doesn't excuse the violent hostage-taking in Moscow, but it explains it." Observers can insist that "'nothing justifies terrorism.' We can block our ears and accuse those who disagree with us of being 'sympathetic with the terrorists,' even of being traitors. But that will change nothing."
"Fighting terror" is the new global trend, says Baroud. "Aggressive, powerful countries crush their weaker foes, deprive them of freedom, of humanity even, [while] continuing to blame them for all the wrongs of the world." And he says, meanwhile, that "we, the people of this world who mean well but fail to act, are expected to believe everything we are told."
Henrik Bork, in the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung," looks at U.S.-North Korean relations in light of this week's events in the Arabian Sea. The U.S. military, assisted by the Spanish Navy, took control of a ship bound for Yemen carrying 15 North Korean Scud missiles on 9 December.
In the end, however, the United States was forced to release the ship on 11 December, having realized there were no legal grounds for seizing the vessel.
Bork questions whether this represents a pointed provocation on the part of North Korea, and whether Pyongyang, as one-third of "the axis of evil," really wanted to anger the world's only superpower. He suggests that North Korea does not want a confrontation but is employing its old tactics, notably "escalation strategy." This time, however, Bork says "the outcome of the bluff is uncertain, since U.S. President George W. Bush has outlined no clear strategy." The United States refuses to conduct negotiations and it is to be hoped Washington will not respond harshly to provocation.
North Korea is open to talks, says Bork, particularly since President Kim Jong-Il's power is based on foreign financial aid. "The dictator can be bought," he says, adding that "limited dealings with a terrorist state are still better than a blockade and an escalation risking a nuclear exchange."
WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE:
In a contribution to "The Wall Street Journal Europe," Borut Grgic of the School of International Service in Washington says Serbia is treading a dangerous political path. In third-round presidential elections declared void due to less than 50 percent turnout, moderate nationalist Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica led in the polls followed by ultranationalist candidate Vojislav Seselj.
But Grgic says that in reality, Kostunica pursues "a nationalist agenda by wrapping it in a legalistic rhetoric," while standing "in the way of the more progressive reform program" advocated by Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic. Such continuing signs of nationalist sentiment are cause for alarm, he says. Moreover, Serbia continues to conduct arms deals with Iraq, Syria, and other internationally isolated states.
Grgic says, "It is time Belgrade made a choice: Is it a Western capital, with genuine Western interests, including democracy as its driving force, or is [it] only looking for ways to resurrect its claim over the territory that never was its to claim in the first place?"
He says that as long as "Belgrade hopes that Serbia will one day resume its role as the dominant Balkan power, lasting peace and stability in the region is unattainable." And this means that the U.S. and Europe "will have to continue deploying resources [not] only to keep Serbia in check, but also to calm regional fears" of other Balkan states.
In France's daily "Liberation," Fabrice Rousselot says the seizure and subsequent release of a ship carrying Scud missiles from North Korea and bound for Yemen placed the United States in a very awkward position. The U.S. handling of the affair made it seem like a superpower so obsessed by regime change in Baghdad that it neglects its other priorities. Both Iraq and North Korea were deemed two-thirds of an "axis of evil," along with Iran, by U.S. President George W. Bush early this year.
On the Scud-missile issue, his administration explained that it would seek to resolve its differences with North Korea diplomatically. A White House spokesman emphasized that one should not confuse the issues of North Korea and Iraq, as Pyongyang has not challenged the international community for over a decade, as has Baghdad. But Rousselot says this argument is difficult to accept, given that North Korea is now openly challenging Washington.
At the moment, Rousselot concludes, Washington seems to be having some difficulty maintaining a consistent policy on North Korea.
(RFE/RL's Dora Slaba contributed to this report.)