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Western Press Review: French Opposition To War, Israeli Elections, And OPEC's Dominance

Prague, 23 January 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Among the issues discussed in major Western media outlets today are France's bid to head off possible U.S.-led military action in Iraq, the enduring influence of OPEC on the global energy market, Israel's political options ahead of next week's (27 January) elections, Libya's controversial leadership of the UN Human Rights Commission, and the conflicts on Turkey's political scene. Attention also continues to focus on Iraq in anticipation of chief weapons inspector Hans Blix's report next week (27 January) on Iraqi weapons programs to the UN Security Council.


An editorial in Britain's "The Guardian" today says France is leading the effort to prevent a possible U.S.-led attack on Iraq while British leaders have chosen to grudgingly support America's war efforts despite widespread public opposition. In what the paper calls a "dramatic diplomatic ambush," French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin made clear this week that France would not support a second UN resolution authorizing the use of force against Iraq and might use its Security Council veto in an attempt to head off any military action.

France wants to give ongoing weapons inspections more time to work, the editorial says. "So, too, do Russia, China, a majority of Security Council members and most of the EU. This is entirely sensible," says the paper. By taking this stance, the French government "says to its own people, most of whom oppose war, that it is listening to them. It says to the Arab world, and to France's large Muslim minority, that it shares their worries. It reminds [British Prime Minister] Tony Blair that such a fateful tilt towards Washington inevitably unbalances Britain's European relationships." And, moreover, in a week marking 40 years since the signing of the Elysee Treaty declaring mutual goodwill, France "lends symbolic support to a Germany that feared it was alone in opposing the U.S. on Iraq and now finds to its relief it is not."


An item in the "International Herald Tribune" says the decision by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) to increase production to offset the effects of the shutdown of Venezuela's oil industry shows the importance of the major Persian Gulf suppliers has not diminished. In spite of U.S. attempts to "buffer" itself with oil exports from Mexico, Venezuela, Russia, and elsewhere, Saudi Arabia and other Mideast suppliers "retain as much leverage as they ever had over global energy markets." The paper adds that the "only sure road" to greater energy self-sufficiency "is through reduced consumption and new technology."

The paper goes on to predict that oil prices will decline if a possible war in Iraq is averted. A short war might cause a short-term increase in prices followed by a persistent decline, as Iraq increases production in the postwar period. But the paper says a long, drawn-out conflict would likely trigger an economic recession in which oil prices might exceed $50 a barrel.

The paper goes on to note that China will soon become the second-largest oil importer, after the United States -- a situation which is leading to a dovetailing of interests between Washington and Beijing. The paper says one positive aspect of the current global uncertainty is that it is reinforcing "the need for Washington and its Cold War adversaries Russia and China to work closely together on energy policy."


In a contribution to "The Wall Street Journal Europe," Dow Jones Newswires correspondent Amy Teibel discusses public sentiment toward the two front-running candidates ahead of Israel's prime-ministerial elections on 27 January. Incumbent Ariel Sharon faces his starkest challenge from Labor Party leader Amram Mitzna, a political moderate pledging to resume negotiations with the Palestinians.

"Tapping into the public's mood [is] the key" to electoral success, says Teibel. She says it is now clear that Sharon's hard-line approach has not been successful in establishing internal security for Israel. But challenger Mitzna is offering as an alternative unpopular solutions that most Israelis "have no use for," she says. Mitzna "wants Israel to pull all of its settlers, and soldiers, out of the Gaza Strip, and to resume peace talks over the West Bank with [Palestinian leader] Yasser Arafat."

A majority of Israelis polled say they are willing to trade "land for peace," but they are not supporting Mitzna's program. Teibel says Israelis are "reluctant to reward" two years of intermittent Palestinian suicide attacks and "mistrustful of Palestinian leaders' resolve to clamp down on militants -- so much so that they're willing to entrust their future and the future of their country to a man who has racked up a big zero on the security scorecard."


In "The Times" of London, Anatole Kaletsky says both American and British leaders are behaving as if war with Iraq is inevitable even while they insist no final decision has been made. He says U.S. President George W. Bush's main aim is to intimidate Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein "into compliance with the UN demands" outlined in Resolution 1441 or, "better still, to frighten him into exile. To have any chance of achieving this, it is essential for America and Britain to keep up the maximum pressure, to continue the arms buildup and to leave no doubt [that] they are ready to strike [Saddam] whenever they see fit and with overwhelming might. For the U.S. or Britain to show the slightest hesitation would be to throw away their best chance of a peaceful solution."

Kaletsky says Saddam also has reasons "for whipping up war fever." By exaggerating America's "aggressive intentions, he can hope to present Iraq's every concession as a victory, which has [staved] off the inevitable conflict."

Iraq, for its part, will cooperate enough to avoid a conflict, as Saddam's "only alternative to military annihilation will be to extend the inspection process for as long as possible." The Iraqi leader's "capitulation or voluntary exile will become more probable with every week that passes," Kaletsky says. "America's most rational policy is simply to keep building up its [forces], but not to rush an attack."


The German daily the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" looks at politics in Turkey and the political struggle experienced by Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The commentary says there has been no mercy for the head of the ruling party although his party has an absolute majority in parliament. "His only crime is that he recited an inflammatory poem more than five years ago."

In the eyes of his prosecutors, Erdogan's crime is the victory of his conservative Islamic party in the last elections. The distrust of the old political establishment is deep-seated, the paper says. Erdogan and his government have, of course, provoked the old order by advancing a new policy on the unification of Cyprus and also with Turkey's desire to woo Washington. The paper says the decision by the Constitutional Court yesterday, which effectively ended Erdogan's leadership of the ruling Justice and Development Party, "represents a power struggle that has possibly not yet peaked."

The paper remarks that the Constitutional Court's decision came at a critical time, when the government must decide on whether Turkey will participate in a possible U.S.-led war against Iraq. A majority of the Turkish population opposes U.S. military action.


In the "International Herald Tribune," Brian Knowlton says NATO's decision to postpone a ruling on a U.S. request for six measures to support a potential military action against Iraq is "a new sign of wavering allied will." He says NATO's move followed what some described as a "heated debate, with the United States and Britain on one side, and France, Germany and some other members on the other." But ultimately, Knowlton says, the alliance is expected to approve the measures, which are mainly aimed at defending NATO-member Turkey against a possible Iraqi attack. Turkey has agreed to allow the U.S. limited access to its military bases for any military operations in the Persian Gulf.

However, Knowlton says NATO's hesitation on the measures, "in a forum long dominated by the United States and where an almost pro forma approval might once have been expected, sent a dramatic signal: The debate about war has taken a bad turn for Washington as some of its closest allies have joined in opposition. This in turn increases the likelihood of a narrower U.S. war coalition with no UN backing." In addition to the U.S., Britain and Australia have already sent troops and supplies to the region.


France's daily "Le Monde" discusses the controversial decision to allow Libya to chair the UN Human Rights Commission. The paper says that, according to all the dossiers prepared by human rights groups, Libya is ruled by a "pitiless dictatorship. Public freedoms are nonexistent; opponents are crushed, sometimes declared 'disappeared,' [when] they are not chased down and assassinated abroad." The Libyan political system is completely opaque, the paper says, and is founded on secrecy and intimidation. The reins of power are held by an operative cabal, which hides behind a facade of formal institutions.

"Le Monde" says the decision to allow Libya to chair the UN Human Rights Commission would be comical if it were not so serious and rife with consequences. The nomination of Libya affects the credibility of the United Nations at a time when the organization must play a major role in the Iraqi crisis, says the paper. It undermines the arguments of those who maintain that only the UN has the moral and legal right to decide on the Iraq issue. The paper says one can imagine that some of the hawks in the U.S. administration might use the UN's "inglorious" decision to appoint Libya to undermine the authority of the organization.

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