Prague, 22 January 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Discussion in the major Western dailies today focuses overwhelmingly on Iraq, as U.S. and British troops continue to deploy to the Persian Gulf region. A report on Iraqi weapons programs to be submitted by chief inspector Hans Blix to the UN Security Council next week (27 January) has fueled speculation over what, exactly, will constitute a material breach of UN Resolution 1441 on Iraqi disarmament and whether the report will be used as a pretext by the United States to launch a military offensive.
THE WASHINGTON POST:
An editorial in "The Washington Post" says Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's "refusal to accept the 'last chance' for voluntary disarmament" offered by Resolution 1441 has split the UN Security Council into two camps.
One side, led by the United States, is serious about imposing the "serious consequences" cited by the resolution -- most likely the forcible removal of the Iraqi regime -- if it fails to comply with UN demands. The other camp, including France and Germany, prefers a strategy of "containing" Iraq with continued inspections. The paper says unless this fundamental difference can be resolved, the U.S. administration will have to choose between "giving up on Iraqi disarmament" and leading a military campaign without UN approval.
The report by chief weapons inspector Hans Blix due on 27 January at the UN Security Council may touch off another "acrimonious debate" over whether Iraq has or has not complied with the UN's demand for disarmament. But the question is simple, says the paper: "Has Iraq agreed to immediately and voluntarily disclose and dismantle its weapons of mass destruction, and to allow inspectors to verify those actions? The answer is equally plain: It has not. In fact, it has denied that it has any weapons to dismantle [and] done its best to prevent the inspectors from uncovering its lies," in part by denying inspectors access to its scientists.
THE NEW YORK TIMES:
An editorial in "The New York Times" today says the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush made a "wise decision" in deciding to work through the UN Security Council in an attempt to pressure Iraq to disarm. But now, with the inspections process still incomplete, Bush "seems increasingly impatient to abandon inspections and go to war, even if other Security Council members are not yet ready to do so. That would be a mistake," the paper says.
Instead, Washington should "heed the advice of other Security Council members [to] allow more time for the inspectors to work." War entails "enormous risks," the paper points out. "Besides the inevitable loss of life, Iraqi as well as American, there is the danger of sowing political instability across the Middle East, thereby threatening international oil supplies."
Baghdad has allowed the inspections to take place without serious obstruction and has now agreed to let its scientists talk to inspectors without the presence of Iraqi monitors. However, it "has not yet provided the full cooperation required" by the Security Council.
The editorial says now that inspection teams are "approaching full strength and beginning to make use of American and other intelligence leads, it is too soon to give up on all possibility of a peaceful solution." U.S. President Bush, it says, "should not be in a rush to go to war."
THE WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE:
An editorial in the European edition of "The Wall Street Journal" says there are reasons to doubt the U.S. administration's commitment to bringing democracy to Iraq.
One need only look at the way the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush has been treating the Iraqi opposition. The goal of the Iraqi National Congress (INC), an umbrella organization of Iraqi opposition groups and "the most significant player," is a "unified, pluralistic, and democratic Iraq." Moreover, the INC "draws support from among all Iraqi ethnic groups." Yet Washington has proven reluctant to meet the aid requests of the INC, "contrary [to] Bush's statements about helping Iraqis liberate their own country."
The U.S. is now considering "years of military occupation [or] UN administration for Iraq." Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein might go into exile or fall victim to a coup. Any of these scenarios might solve the problem of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, says the paper, but they could also undermine the emergence of a democratic Iraq.
"Managed correctly," the paper says, regime change in Iraq could be "a truly region-changing event." A new, democratic Iraqi government "could set an example for democratic reformers in Iran, Palestine, and even Saudi Arabia" -- but not if Iraq "is turned into a giant UN refugee camp or if power is transferred to another Baath Party thug."
INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE:
U.S. President George W. Bush has failed to recognize that the public -- both within the United States and abroad -- needs to be convinced of the benefits of a military operation in Iraq. In the "International Herald Tribune," syndicated columnist William Pfaff says that, thus far, Bush has simply repeated that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein "is an awful man.... [Saddam's] actual threat to the United States is asserted but neither explained nor documented."
Pfaff says this "lack of clarity about intentions and political strategy is why [Bush's] public support" for an Iraq campaign has diminished. It is also why U.S. allies are insisting on giving UN inspections more time to work.
Regarding the consequences of an Iraq war, the president's supporters have offered vague theories about a "transformed region" and modernization of the Middle East. They and anonymous administration officials have offered "proposals for military government in postwar Iraq, or some form of UN administration, or a new government by returned exiles or regional leaders."
But Pfaff says the public still knows "nothing official about the administration's intentions." He says Bush "cannot expect wide international support until he says what, once Saddam has been driven from power, he intends to do with Iraq -- and its [petroleum] resources," which some suspect is the real U.S. motive for war in the region.
FRANKFURTER ALLGEMEINE ZEITUNG:
Commentary in the German press focuses on closer Franco-German relations, which are being celebrated this week with the 40th anniversary of the Elysee Treaty. In 1963, the two countries signed the treaty, which set the foundation for warmer ties in reaction to the three wars fought between the two neighbors between 1870 and 1945.
Analyst Guenther Nonnenmacher, writing in the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung," sees little cause for celebration, however. He says, "The treaty has developed from a policy into a legend that has little in common with today's setbacks and hostilities." Even the recent Franco-German proposal for a European Union dual presidency doesn't offer "a synthesis of different views, only differing visions set side by side."
Nonnenmacher remarks that the best claim one can make about the Franco-German agreement is that its brief contents give the impression of a bright future, because its essential sections have remained unfulfilled to this day. He thinks politicians in both countries, who are celebrating the anniversary of the treaty today with great pomp, should rather consider the treaty as something truly binding, and the tasks it outlines as a list of items to be genuinely dealt with by both countries.
"In that case," he says, "this legend of the 20th century could become a reality in the 21st century."
In a commentary in the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung," Gerd Kroencke also examines the friendship treaty between France and Germany. He says it created a new symbolism because the treaty that ended World War I was also signed in Versailles. For the World War I generation, Versailles was associated with the harsh postwar terms for Germany "that shamed the nation."
In marking the 40th anniversary of the Elysee Treaty, the "governments in Berlin and Paris, for the first time in years, see no problems that cannot be solved in their relationship. Not even their different assessments of the Iraq crisis "are leading to any dissonance."
Moreover, says Kroencke, those who recall that the French reviled the Germans at the time the Elysee Treaty was signed are now in a position to value the foresight of the founding fathers of Franco-German friendship. "They should have received a peace prize" for ensuring such long-lasting peace on the continent, says Kroencke.
An editorial in the London-based "Financial Times" says that although the UN Security Council vote on Resolution 1441 was unanimous among all 15 members, the U.S. interpretation of the resolution has "always differed from everyone else's."
For Washington, the resolution "is there to justify war" and gather support against Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. But "for the French-led camp, the point is to prevent war and attempt to keep the U.S. anchored in the international system of law embodied in the UN." Those who believe an assault on Iraq is reckless and dangerous view the purpose of renewed weapons inspections as a way to disarm an autocratic regime that has threatened its neighbors. If the inspectors are not uncovering major arsenals, that suggests either "the arms are not there or that more time is needed." But for the United States, in contrast, weapons finds "confirm its suspicions and prove Baghdad is not cooperating as it must."
The paper says it is "essential" that UN inspectors get more time to "run their course." War "requires clear proof Baghdad is stockpiling or engaged in developing a significant arsenal of rogue weapons and that war is the least bad way of dealing with that."
Discrediting Saddam Hussein and his regime "is easy enough," the paper says. But that in itself "is not enough to convince world opinion and U.S. allies; nor is it a casus belli. For that we need evidence, not assertion."
France's daily "Le Monde" says U.S. President George W. Bush asserted yesterday that Iraq has had plenty of time to disarm and that it is now certain the regime is not doing so. The paper says the U.S. president made it clear military intervention is now just a question of time. For Bush, the main issue is not weapons inspections, it is the eventual disarmament of Iraq.
Washington has been playing down the divisions expressed at a UN Security Council meeting earlier on 20 January, the paper says. At the meeting, France threatened to use its veto, as one of the five permanent council members, to block any military operation in Iraq. Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld ordered the deployment of two more aircraft carriers to the Persian Gulf.
France and Belgium, for their part, announced yesterday that the European Union had come to a common position on Iraqi inspections. Paris notably called on Iraq, which this week promised to cooperate more with inspectors, to turn its "promises into action."
(RFE/RL's Dora Slaba contributed to this report.)