Prague, 19 December 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Among the topics discussed by some of the major Western dailies today are the dispute between Moscow and Baghdad over a LUKoil oil contract, and how this could shift the balance between war and peace; removing global trade barriers; the outcome of the Afghan donors' conference in Oslo this week; the reasons behind the Arab world's distrust of the United States; the announcement this week (17 December) that the U.S. is seeking to deploy a limited missile-defense system by 2004; and the challenges to state sovereignty that are emerging in the post-11 September world.
THE BOSTON GLOBE:
An editorial in "The Boston Globe" discusses the erupting dispute between Moscow and Baghdad over Iraq's cancellation of a multibillion-dollar oil-extraction contract with a Russian oil consortium headed by LUKoil.
"The cancellation was plainly meant to punish Russia," says the editorial. Published comments last week from LUKoil President Vagit Alekperov suggested the Kremlin has assured the company that LUKoil would maintain its rights to Iraqi oil fields, even if Iraqi President Saddam Hussein is overthrown. Alekperov's comments may have provoked the Iraqi leader to retaliate.
But Baghdad's move may prove to be a "crucial blunder," if it provokes Russian President Vladimir Putin to vote in favor of a UN Security Council resolution authorizing the use of force against Iraq. The Kremlin has yet to officially comment, but Russia's Interfax news agency cites one Kremlin official as saying if Iraq goes through with the cancellation, Baghdad will have effectively removed one of the major incentives for Russia to support Baghdad on the UN Security Council.
In that case, Putin may "cast his lot with the United States" at the UN, the paper says. The editorial says this will be "fitting" for Saddam Hussein's "attachment to a code of revenge will have overwhelmed rational dictates of statecraft" for the last time.
INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE:
In a contribution to the "International Herald Tribune," Nicholas Stern of the World Bank says wealthy nations must lower the barriers to trade with the developing world that are undermining economic growth and investment in these nations and keeping people poor.
European, Japanese, and U.S. agricultural subsidies to their relatively wealthy farming sectors, coupled with their protectionist policies against farm and textile imports from developing nations, prevent the poor from utilizing their main natural resources and "exploiting their comparative advantage" in these sectors.
"Removing such barriers would expand the market for goods from the developing world, increase investment in labor-intensive sectors and thus enable more people to improve their lives and escape from poverty."
But instead, rich nations preach free trade and insist developing nations open their markets -- while simultaneously protecting their own, wealthier, industries from the risks of a truly free and competitive market.
Stern says, moreover, lowering these obstacles to trade makes economic sense. The benefits to the poor in developing countries if wealthy countries were to remove these trade barriers "would be more than twice the $50 billion in annual development aid that rich countries now provide."
Such barriers to trade with developing nations "are impediments to investment, growth, jobs, and poverty reduction. Removing such barriers should be the top priority," he says.
FRANKFURTER ALLGEMEINE ZEITUNG:
"Afghan President Hamid Karzai is a political professional who acts with self-assurance in the international arena," says the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" today, in assessing the politician's astute negotiations at the latest two-day Afghan donors' conference in Oslo, Norway. The conference ended yesterday with the international community pledging some $1.8 billion for Afghanistan in 2003.
The paper says Karzai knows exactly what is expected of him when addressing any given audience. So he assured the international community that human rights are being respected in Afghanistan and confirmed that he is launching a campaign against drug smuggling, although aid organizations differ in their assessments of these claims.
There is no need to condemn Karzai for such statements, says the paper, since his power is limited and does not reach beyond the capital city of Kabul. Karzai can hardly deal on his own with the transnational Al-Qaeda terrorist network without foreign support, it says.
Development aid is generous at present, says the paper, but this may not be the case for long. The time will eventually come when it will be necessary to ask what the government in Afghanistan has actually achieved.
In a contribution to Britain's "Financial Times," Anatol Lieven of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace says that in recent years, the belief in the inviolateness of state sovereignty has come into question. Most recently, he says, national sovereignties have been challenged "by right-wing U.S. -- and some British -- advocates of a kind of neo-imperialism. They assert that states which break certain rules laid down by the U.S. can be curtailed in their sovereignty, and even invaded by U.S. and allied forces, reshaped by force, or dismembered."
Lieven says such "neo-imperialist" world views have surfaced at various times throughout history, but have re-emerged in the West following the terrorist attacks of 11 September.
Lieven says there is a "visceral hostility" that some of the current U.S. rhetoric "arouses among many peoples around the world. There is a justified fear that, if the U.S. is accorded the right to act as world policeman, then -- as in the past -- it will impose a version of international law that is very far indeed from being universal or impartial."
And these concerns run deep for many nations, he says. "Not only are many states around the world extremely fragile, but in most cases they gained independence only recently [from] Western empires. It is hardly surprising," he says, that these nations are "acutely sensitive to the U.S. and its allies arrogating to themselves the right to suspend sovereignties."
The "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" comments today on U.S. President George W. Bush's decision to deploy a limited version of a U.S. missile defense shield. Although questions of workability and affordability are still being raised, there is no opposition to the plan on the scale seen over former President Ronald Reagan's 1983 Star Wars plan, which was designed to protect the U.S. from a massive Soviet attack.
In Reagan's time, says the paper, "tens of thousands took to the streets to protest. Now there is no such opposition in the face of what is seen as a genuine threat from North Korea."
On the other hand, the commentary says, even if the missile-defense system was functional -- which is far from certain at present -- the system "will not serve as a defense against atomic weapons that a dictator's regime can bring into the country via something as simple as the U.S. postal system."
The U.S. focuses on what the paper calls the "luxury of defense" because Washington is accustomed to thinking in terms of worst-case scenarios. "But a modern security policy," the paper concludes, "would be a far more fruitful idea."
In France's daily "Le Monde," Phillipe Pons writes from Seoul discussing South Korea's presidential elections today. Pons says for the first time in South Korea's young democracy, the campaigns leading up to today's election "did not slip into regionalism or personal rivalries, but focused on the opposition between two political visions that will determine the country's stance as much toward its American ally" as its North Korean neighbor.
Against the backdrop of the threat implied by the announcement that North Korea will resume its nuclear-weapons program, both main candidates in the campaign put forth radically different visions. Former Supreme Court judge and conservative candidate Lee Hoi-Chang is a critic of outgoing President Kim Dae-Jung's policy of openness toward Pyongyang, and blames Kim's "accommodating" policies for the current nuclear crisis.
His challenger, Roh Moo-Hyun, a human rights lawyer of the center-left, advocates cooperation with Pyongyang, deeming this policy more stable for the Korean peninsula than further attempts to isolate the North Korean regime with economic sanctions. Roh is also in favor of rebalancing relations with the United States to make Washington more respectful of South Korean sovereignty.
Pons says the presidential campaign has revealed a generation gap within the populace and a divide between the political visions of the two candidates. The conservative and unwavering Lee embodies a lingering Cold War mentality, whereas Roh is a new breed of candidate. His openness appeals more to the young, pro-democracy generation.
INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE:
In a contribution to the "International Herald Tribune," former U.S. Central Intelligence Agency officer Raymond Close says there are good reasons why much of the Arab world is distrustful of the United States, and tells a story which he says illustrates his point.
Close, who was the CIA's chief of station in Saudi Arabia from 1970 to 1977, says that in late December 1973, Arab oil ministers decided to make the lifting of the then-ongoing oil embargo contingent on an Israeli withdrawal from occupied Palestinian lands, in accordance with UN Resolution 242. The resolution calls for Israel's withdrawal in exchange for full Arab recognition of the Israeli state, and U.S. President Richard Nixon "had repeatedly promised [its] full implementation."
Secretary of State Henry Kissinger inquired of Saudi King Faisal whether Nixon could announce the embargo had been lifted in his upcoming State of the Union address. Faisal agreed that an urgent meeting would be called to discuss the embargo, but insisted Nixon include in his speech that Israel would move toward full implementation of the UN resolutions -- as Nixon had promised Faisal in a personal letter just two days earlier.
Ultimately, Nixon announced in his speech that Israel's compliance with the resolutions would be forthcoming, and that the embargo was under review. But he added that U.S. allies in the Middle East should realize that the U.S. would not be "coerced" on this issue.
Close says it seems that Nixon, by adding this "veiled threat," "could not bring himself to honor the true spirit of the agreement. [Certainly] in Arab eyes, Nixon's choice of those words seemed to deprive the statement of sincerity and credibility."
(RFE/RL's Dora Slaba contributed to this report.)