Accessibility links

Breaking News

Western Press Review: Iraq, North Korea, And The U.S. Death Penalty

Prague, 13 January 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Substantial commentary on U.S. confrontations with Iraq and North Korea appears today in publications monitored in RFE/RL's Western Press Review. There is also a flurry of comment on the death penalty in the United States.


A commentary in "Die Welt" by Uwe Schmitt praises the role of New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson in talks with North Korean officials. Richardson was U.S. ambassador to the United Nations when Bill Clinton was U.S. president. Schmitt calls Richardson's intervention a "brilliant piece" of statesmanship.

Schmitt writes that Richardson is achieving results "just because [he] is not acting as a plenipotentiary from Washington." He says the North Koreans believe that "only an American can save us from America."

Schmitt continues: "There is perhaps no other politician who exerts so much clout as an expert on Korea and as a troubleshooter [than Richardson], and one who can offer more as a loyal statesman in opposition. Pyongyang is aware of this. It would come as no surprise if further demands were made on Richardson's services as an intermediary."


Under the headline "The Dance of the Warrior Bees," author Carol Brightman writes in "The Boston Globe" today that the U.S. focus on Iraq is directed toward the easy target, not the most significant one. "Here comes North Korea, a runaway starveling from the fallen communist bloc, rattling its keys to the bomb in Uncle Sam's face. And wouldn't you know it, the world's supercop has turned the other cheek.

"Why? Because of Iraq, where there are no plutonium-reprocessing plants such as the one Kim Jong-il has unlocked in Yongbyon. Nor is there evidence in Iraq of a single nuclear weapon, or of missiles with the delivery capability of Pyongyang's, much less high-tech weaponry for sale to dubious customers, like the Scud missiles recently sold to Yemen. In Iraq there is oil."


Former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger comments today in the "Chicago Tribune" that the nations of the world cannot tolerate a nuclear-armed North Korea. "None of the treaties inhibiting nuclear proliferation will be worth the paper they are written on if a nation whose conduct is so universally regarded as beyond the pale succeeds in openly producing nuclear weapons in the teeth of freely accepted international obligations. And when scores of countries can threaten each other with nuclear weapons, global catastrophe and seepage of these weapons into terror operations beckon."

Kissinger says that North Korea should be pressed to return to the nuclear status quo ante, and then be invited to preparatory talks with three principal agenda items: destroying its nuclear military capability, finding a formula to guarantee its security, and, possibly, economic cooperation to raise the standard of living of its population.

The commentary concludes: "What if North Korea refuses such an approach? I cannot believe that nations on which the security of the world depends will tolerate the permanent possession of nuclear weapons by the world's most ruthless contemporary nation. If that were to happen, the U.S. would be obliged to find its nuclear partners where it can and reserve its freedom of action for when its fundamental security is challenged."


Commentator William R. Hawkins, writing in "The Washington Times," says that the U.S.-North Korea standoff demonstrates the importance and usefulness of military power. "Nothing better demonstrates the continued utility of military power at the dawn of the 21st century than the saber rattling of North Korea. The Stalinist regime in Pyongyang is a failed state. Its economy has collapsed and millions of its people have died of starvation. Its failure is in stark contrast to the success of South Korea, which has been one of Asia's most prosperous tigers. South Korea's per capita gross national income in 2001 was $9,400, about 20 times that of the North, and its population of 48 million is more than double North Korea's 22 million. North Korea has only one asset: militarism."

Hawkins adds, "The deference accorded to the eccentric despot Kim Jong-il because of his militarism has not been lost on other rogue regimes."

In sum, the commentator appeals for big guns to stay continually pointed: "The technology is out of the bag. Toothless conventions through the United Nations or the Wassenaar agreement (the first global multilateral arrangement covering both conventional weapons and sensitive dual-use goods and technologies) are not going to stop transnational firms from selling whatever regimes want to buy. The only way to halt the spread of weapons is to send a clear message that they are the road to ruin; that any leader who decides to acquire weapons of mass destruction is donning a uniform with a big target painted on it."


Dominique Moisi writes in the "Financial Times" that French President Jacques Chirac is rallying French troops for war in Iraq, even as war prospects may be fading. Moisi is deputy director of the Paris-based Institut Francais des Relations Internationales.

Moisi says France seeks to maintain its position as one different from that of the United States, but not too different. "The ambition of successive French governments has been to carve a distinct role while making a recognizable contribution to a peaceful international community. 'I differ, therefore I am' could easily be the motto of the French diplomatic service."

The commentator says, "First, France must continue to be, at the very least, a 'bad-weather friend' -- ultimately to be relied upon even if differing on a day-to-day basis."

Moisi continues: "Second, as a permanent Security Council member, France must act as the West's most loyal supporter of the UN. It must prove itself a steadfast defender of a multilateral system that respects universal rules."

Also, the commentator says, France must respond to its own domestic opinion. "Recent polls suggest that a growing number of French people -- more than two-thirds of them -- oppose war with Iraq. Many intellectuals who once lent their support to military action in the Balkans, or in Afghanistan, now express deep reservations about another war in the Gulf."

Even so, Moisi concludes: "In an ironic reversal of roles, Mr. Chirac has concluded that abstention from military intervention would be against France's strategic interests just as [British Prime Minister Tony] Blair, for domestic political reasons, is trying to create a little distance from Washington. But while diplomatic creativity may be one of France's strengths, military shortcomings may reduce it to little more than a spectator's role in the event of a war."


In "The Times," staff writer Tim Hames comments under the headline "Blair Needs a Weapon of Mass Persuasion" that the British prime minister is losing ground in his efforts to convince the British public that war on Iraq is necessary. "The prime minister's Iraqi campaign is a shambles before the first shot is fired."

Hames continues: "The blunt truth is that there is a strong social divide on this issue. The middle classes have little time for regime change in Iraq, regardless of the circumstances. They are convinced by the caricature of Mr. Bush as some sort of Texan hick, motivated by a combination of oil and retribution, much as they took the view that whenever Bill Clinton undertook a missile strike against Iraq it was to distract attention from his sexual misadventures. There is virtually nothing that Mr. Blair can do to alter that impression -- so he would be best advised not to bother and concentrate instead on the 'Sun' [that is, working-class] readers rather than those of 'The Guardian' [that is, middle class]."

Hames concludes: "There is a lot of idle talk in the Labour Party today of analogies between Iraq and the Suez crisis. It would be more accurate to think of Mr. Blair facing a suet crisis; he cannot persuade the middle classes to be as steamed up about Saddam as he is himself. The more appropriate military metaphor is not with 1956 but with the Six-Day War of 1967. And for the prime minister, the sooner that Day One arrives the better."


"The Boston Globe" editorializes that there is a debate in the U.S. government now over backing in Iraq a transitional administration formed by organizations of the Iraqi opposition currently outside Saddam's reach, or waiting in the hope that organized political groups will come forward once Saddam is gone.

The newspaper says: "Whether Saddam Hussein flees into exile, succumbs to a coup, or is swept away by war, the crucial question facing Iraqis would be the same: How can they best attain a democratic future in a state based on the rule of law, with human and civil rights for all citizens?

"This should also be a central aim of the Bush administration. If U.S. actions end up toppling Saddam without truly liberating Iraqis, the long-term consequences -- not only for Iraq and the surrounding region but also for U.S. interests -- are likely to be nasty."

It concludes: "The rebuilding of the Iraqi nation Saddam has ruined will take patience, wisdom, and good faith. The task will be even harder if the foreign soldiers searching for weapons of mass destruction and protecting Iraq's borders are also called upon to police and administer the country. A transitional Iraqi administration should be formed now to perform those tough tasks and prepare for the creation of a constitutional system of government."


Wolfgang Koydl comments in the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" that the United States is determined to go to war with Iraq and that there is little opposition in the United States to the official policy.

He writes: "Bush has left us without a doubt. The price of doing nothing is far greater than the price of action. He is bound to wage war and nothing will deter him. Saddam's last year has begun. Europe, too, must face this reality."


"The New York Times" editorializes that a welcome new debate is opening in the United States on the death penalty. "Nothing became Governor George Ryan's term in office like his leaving it. As the clock ticked out on the Illinois governor's last days in office, he made a series of dramatic announcements that emptied his state's death row. We can only join in his hope that this sweeping, and almost shocking, gesture leads the rest of the country to reconsider whether America wants to continue to be in the business of state-sanctioned death."

The editorial adds: "Mr. Ryan's conversion was helped along by the state legislature, which consistently refused to consider any of the laws he promoted in an attempt to rationalize the death penalty system. It is hard to understand why supporters of capital punishment would not be eager to make sure that an innocent person is never executed."

The newspaper concludes: "Virtually every country on the planet has rejected capital punishment as barbaric. Perhaps Governor Ryan, in the tortured end to his political career, can help lead the nation to a similar conclusion."


The "Chicago Tribune" reaches a similar conclusion. It says in an editorial: "Most of the time, the justice system gets it right. But the problems Ryan highlighted in these cases have been found far too often for anyone to take comfort in the status quo."

The newspaper adds: "Should Illinois' Death Row be emptied out by the governor's decision, it will fill up again soon enough. Governor-elect Rod Blagojevich has promised to retain the moratorium on capital punishment. Senate President Emil Jones has said criminal justice reform is his highest priority. Those are welcome words. Legislators must ensure that no future governor faces the kind of decisions Ryan is making today."


From across the ocean, "The Times" concludes in the words of an editorial that "support for the death penalty is falling in America."

In the United Kingdom, "The Times" says: "The political establishment is fearful of allowing public opinion to influence the law on the death penalty. It is assumed that voters would support a return to executions."

The editorial concludes: "America is in the midst of a difficult debate about the most sensitive of subjects, but what is clear is that the country hardly has the blood-lust presumed by its enemies and some of its friends."

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