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Western Press Review: Roh's Victory In South Korean Elections And Debating Iraq's 'Material Breach'

Prague, 20 December 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Much of the commentary in the Western press today centers on the results of South Korea's presidential election yesterday, in which left-leaning Roh Moo-hyun beat his more hawkish conservative rival, Lee Hoi-chang. Roh favors continuing outgoing President Kim Dae-jung's "sunshine policy" of openness toward North Korea, whereas Lee advocated the hard-line approach of isolation favored by the United States. Roh's winning campaign also promised to seek a more equitable relationship with the United States, in which Seoul would assume a more assertive role. Discussion now centers on what his victory will mean for South Korea's relations with both its northern neighbor and its U.S. ally. Other focus remains on Iraq, and whether the 12,000-page dossier on Iraqi weapons programs submitted by Baghdad is full and complete, as demanded by UN Resolution 1441, or whether its omissions constitute a "material breach."


In Britain's "The Guardian," John Gittings says South Korea's choice of the left-leaning Roh Moo-hyun as president "shows that voters are more worried by U.S. saber-rattling than any potential threat posed by the North." He says the harder line taken against North Korea adopted by the U.S. administration -- exemplified by its insistence that North Korea is part of an "axis of evil" -- "has blighted the Korean peace process for nearly two years." He says some analysts believe that the hostile tone now utilized by the U.S. "has created a vicious circle in which North Korea resorts to the 'nuclear card' to win more diplomatic leverage."

Gittings says Roh's victory "has made the most of voters' anxieties that isolating the North could provoke a new crisis." Roh has also capitalized on the "resentment caused by the perceived refusal of the U.S. to let Koreans set their own pace." His campaign, which maintained that Seoul seek a more assertive relationship with its U.S. ally, may also have benefited from the increasing anti-American sentiment caused by the recent deaths of two Korean girls by a U.S. armored vehicle, and the subsequent acquittals of the soldiers involved. Gittings says the ultimate effect "was to make the tough anti-Pyongyang statements of Mr. Roh's rival, Lee Hoi-chang" -- who advocated the same hard-line approach favored by the U.S. administration -- "sound like softness towards Washington."


A "Stratfor" (Strategic Forecasting LLC) commentary today discusses Washington's contention that Iraq's dossier on its weapons programs, submitted as required by UN Resolution 1441, is incomplete -- and thus in "material breach" of the resolution. Washington has stated that the declaration contains numerous omissions and untruths.

"Stratfor" says, "Depending on one's interpretation of the Security Council resolution, Washington's declaration means either that UN members can use military power to force Iraq to comply or that the Security Council must meet to consider whether it will sanction the use of force."

But as for the United States, the commentary says, Washington already "clearly believes" that Iraq's breach constitutes reason enough for UN members to force compliance.

For the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush, "Stratfor" says the announcement of Iraq's "material breach" is "the beginning of the final diplomatic push to get the United Nations to approve action against Iraq." If this approval is not forthcoming, the commentary predicts that Washington "will move against Iraq itself -- unilaterally if it feels it must."


An editorial in "The Irish Times" says the United States was merely engaging in "saber-rattling" when it declared that Iraq was in "material breach" of UN resolutions in its preliminary assessment of Baghdad's 12,000-page dossier on its weapons programs. "In terms of international law," the paper says, "one statement to the UN Security Council, and one alone, mattered." And this was the declaration by UN chief weapons inspector Hans Blix that Iraq has provided "prompt access" and "a good deal of help" to the inspections team.

The editorial suggests the U.S. assessment may have been premature. However, it does appear that Iraqi officials have been "less than totally forthcoming in their paperwork." But the editorial says such deficiencies, "although serious, are insufficient to justify war when Dr. Blix's inspectors are apparently being given free access to sites." The paper says, "Moreover, determining a 'material breach' is a matter for the Security Council itself, as Resolution 1441 makes explicit." The resolution states that any material breach of the resolution will be reported to the Security Council "for assessment."

The paper goes on to says: "Iraq remains the master of its fate. [The] obligations on it are absolute," and Baghdad should "heed the warning" by the Security Council that it will face "serious consequences" for noncompliance.


In Britain's "Financial Times," Leeds University Korean affairs analyst Aidan Foster-Carter says Roh Moo-hyun's election victory in South Korea is likely to prove something of "a shock." In theory, he says, Roh's victory "represents political continuity. In practice it is likely to mean radical change in a volatile region."

Roh has pledged to continue the "sunshine policy" of openness toward North Korea begun by outgoing President Kim Dae-jung. But Foster-Carter says many observers conclude that the sunshine policy has failed. Moreover, Roh has hinted that the current impasse between the United States and North Korea "is Washington's fault as much as Pyongyang's." Although Foster-Carter says, thus far, the U.S. reaction to North Korea's announcement it was developing nuclear capabilities has been "remarkably restrained."

Foster-Carter says President-elect Roh "is clearly a populist and a nationalist. The man who will shortly steer Asia's third-largest economy mistrusts big business and favors redistribution of wealth." It also seems likely that Roh will be less welcoming of foreign investment. And if Washington is worried about its relations with its traditional ally on the Korean peninsula, Foster-Carter says, "So it should be."


In the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung," Klaus-Dieter Frankenberger discusses last weekend's EU Copenhagen summit, at which the terms were agreed upon for Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia, Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, Cyprus, and Malta to join the EU in 2004.

"The Copenhagen summit agreed to a community that will overcome the old, imposed separation. It is a potentially pan-European union -- geographically, politically, and culturally, as well as in terms of national history."

Considering the copious pre-summit wrangling that took place over the allocation of funds to candidate countries, Frankenberger says, "It would be fatal if gaining access to European Union largesse was the only motive for the candidate countries."

The results of accession will affect the lives and prospects of millions of people. Aside from the major gains in terms of peace and stability, the economic advantages of enlargement should outweigh sectorial and regional disadvantages.

This largest expansion of membership in EU history will of course pose many questions as to how a Greater Europe should be governed. This task will be incredibly complex, says Frankenberger, adding that the EU's administration will have to be "more flexible and leave space for differentiated agreement. Only then will it prove lasting."


In the British daily "The Guardian," columnist Martin Woolacott says the Koreas have at last been united by one thing: a desire for increased autonomy and self-determination. "Nuclear defiance in [the northern] half of the peninsula and electoral change in the other together represent a challenge to the established policies of America, Japan, China and Russia," he says. What these developments both suggest "is a certain convergence of northern and southern objections to solutions, or rather the lack of them, imposed from outside, above all by the U.S."

In North Korea, these objections "come from a narrow military and party elite that sees its survival threatened by American policies." Yesterday's victory by left-leaning candidate Roh Moo-hyun "is a democratic phenomenon reflecting a shift in generations, slippage in the power of the political right, and a desire for spending on social policies rather than military hardware, as well as the feeling that the U.S. is dangerously mismanaging Pyongyang."

Woolacott says Koreans have "a well-grounded view that the best interests of their country have weighed little in international decision making." They view the continuing division of their country "as the result of a combination of initial American inattention and later obsession with the communist threat." Now, he says, "many feel Korean interests are at risk because of deals [done] in a distant capital. That is the message from both sides of the 38th parallel."


An item in France's daily "Le Monde" discusses the stated intention of South Korea's President-elect Roh Moo-hyun to redefine his country's relationship with the United States. Roh has proposed renegotiating the status of the 37,000 U.S. soldiers deployed in South Korea, which have been the cause of large popular demonstrations following the deaths of two teenaged girls in an accident involving a U.S. armored vehicle. The soldiers involved in the incident were subsequently acquitted by a military court of any wrongdoing.

Roh maintains that the half-century alliance between his nation and the United States should "mature and progress," and be characterized by increased bilateral cooperation between the nations as well as their peoples. His winning campaign promised increased autonomy for Seoul in light of relations with the United States, and the paper says his victory is yet another sign of America's popularity with much of the world. However, Roh has also promised to cooperate with the United States to persuade North Korea to relinquish its nuclear ambitions.

Roh will take office in February, and will face a hostile parliament, governed by the party of his election challenger, conservative Lee Hoi-chang. He will also be challenged by a slowing economy and a U.S. administration that is capable of exerting significant pressure on Seoul with respect to its relations with its North Korean neighbor.

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