Prague, 28 January 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Western press commentary today is dominated by discussion of the report on Iraq's weapons programs delivered by UN inspectors yesterday at the Security Council. Other discussion centers around Israeli elections today, in which Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's Likud Party is expected to win the most seat in parliament, the precarious state in which Afghanistan remains, and alternative political voices in Uzbekistan.
THE NEW YORK TIMES:
An editorial in "The New York Times" says the report on Iraqi weapons programs presented by UN inspectors at the Security Council yesterday makes a strong case for allowing inspections more time to work in order to satisfy international opinion that every possible attempt has been made to resolve the issue peacefully. The paper says more time is needed "for further searches, for analysis of recent findings and for pursuing the intelligence leads now being provided by Washington and other governments."
Chief weapons inspector Hans Blix told the Security Council that inspections had not yet uncovered hard evidence of Iraq's development of prohibited weapons of mass destruction. But the paper says Blix also "rightly" acknowledged that this was not final proof of Iraq's innocence. Iraq has "provided no satisfactory accounting for alarming quantities of nerve gas and anthrax it is known to have possessed." Yet without full cooperation, "inspectors cannot disarm Iraq." They can merely keep up the pressure on Baghdad to limit its development of unconventional weapons and perhaps eventually produce enough evidence that would convince the international community of the need for further action.
The paper says, however, that Washington should not be impatient to begin a war that could be "a messy, bloody business. The world must be reassured that every possibility of a peaceful solution has been fully explored. To that end, the inspectors should be granted additional time."
THE NEW YORK TIMES:
Also in "The New York Times," columnist Nicholas Kristof says that, in considering whether to eventually launch a military operation against Iraq, the first question Washington should ask must be: Will the United States be safer if it invades?
"The real answer is that we don't know," writes Kristof. "But it's quite plausible that an invasion will increase the danger...[not] lessen it." A Central Intelligence Agency report last October said Baghdad appears to be stopping short of launching any terrorist attacks on the United States. But should it come to believe a U.S. attack to be imminent, Baghdad might become far less restrained, perhaps using attacks with any weapons of mass destruction it possesses as a last chance to exact revenge by taking a large number of casualties down with it.
Kristof says, "Frankly, it seems a bad idea to sacrifice our troops' lives -- along with billions of dollars -- in a way that may add to our vulnerability." Principles aside, he says, "it's just a matter of assessing costs and benefits."
An editorial in Britain's "Financial Times" says chief weapons inspector Hans Blix and Mohammad el-Baradei of the International Atomic Energy Agency gave Baghdad a "mixed report card" at the UN Security Council yesterday. Neither inspection team "has been able to establish definitively whether or not Iraq retains any of the weapons of mass destruction the world has decided Saddam Hussein is too dangerous to have." But both inspectors maintained "that continuing the inspections campaign -- provided Iraq can be persuaded to cooperate more actively -- could lead to the disarmament of Mr. Hussein by means short [of] war."
Both inspectors emphasized that the 1991-98 inspections regime achieved tangible results. "Mr. Blix recalled that the disarmament achieved by his predecessors was greater than the weapons destroyed by allied bombing in the Gulf War; Mr. el-Baradei reminded the council that Iraq's atomic-weapons program was destroyed well before the inspectors were withdrawn in 1998."
The paper says the hawks in Washington and London are obscuring the fact that Baghdad's defiance of UN resolutions after the Gulf War "had very limited success." The reports "also make clear that inspectors are far from confirming some of the specific claims" made by the U.S. and Britain. The paper says it is time the two governments cooperate more fully with inspectors and provide them with more intelligence of the sort el-Baradei has called "actionable information."
THE WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE:
"The Wall Street Journal Europe's" assessment of the report by UN chief weapons inspector Hans Blix yesterday says Blix's statements may indicate that Iraq is already in "material breach" of UN Resolution 1441, which calls for Baghdad's full cooperation. According to Blix, Iraq has not issued a full or complete declaration of its weapons of mass destruction, nor has it been cooperating "unconditionally" or "actively."
The paper says, "Specifically, Mr. Blix cited some 6,500 chemical bombs that Iraq has failed to account for," as well as evidence of a prohibited long-range missile program and the illegal import of other military technologies. Blix added that Iraq "had not provided requested documents, and [suggested] that papers on uranium enrichment seized from an Iraqi scientist's home could indicate a widespread concealment effort."
The paper points out that Resolution 1441 states that "false statements or omissions" would constitute material breach. And "Blix says there are probably false statements and certainly omissions."
"So there you have it," the editorial concludes.
The paper says allowing inspectors more time would merely give Iraqi President Saddam Hussein more time to conceal his weapons and mislead inspectors. The Iraqi leader rightly predicted that international opposition to forcibly disarming Iraq would grow.
"He's been right so far, but with the Blix report now on the table," the paper says, "his time is finally running out."
THE WASHINGTON TIMES:
An editorial in "The Washington Times" concurs with "The Wall Street Journal's" assessment, and says chief weapons inspector Hans Blix "presented a compelling case that Iraq is in material breach of UN disarmament resolutions."
Giving inspections more time to work would do little more than allow Baghdad more time to evade disarmament, it says. Blix also made clear that the 12,000-page report Baghdad submitted on its weapons programs did not contain any new evidence that would answer the questions regarding Iraq's compliance with UN resolutions.
Blix "made a strong presentation of the facts showing that Iraq has failed to come clean and is in flagrant violation of Resolution 1441," the paper says. Now the members of the Security Council must apply his findings to Resolution 1441, which calls for "serious consequences" to follow the discovery of a material breach.
Britain's "The Independent" daily says yesterday's report on UN weapons inspections at the Security Council was neither a "make or break" proposition nor "decisive." "An agreement to give the inspectors more time was always going to be the right option," says the paper, however impatient for further action the hawks may be. "Let the inspectors work on."
The paper commends chief weapons inspector Hans Blix for delivering a report "shorn of ideological judgments," and which stuck to "factual accounts of what they [inspectors] had found." The reports "were as dispassionate as they could be," and Blix was "commendably reluctant to rush to conclusions." He also refrained from making any recommendations, instead stressing that it was up to the Security Council to determine how to proceed.
But the paper adds that the "clarity of Mr. Blix's report should have left Iraq in no doubt about what it must do next. It has to provide evidence, documentary or otherwise, to show that it no longer has the VX gas, anthrax and other stockpiled substances that it once had -- or explain why the records produced by the pre-1998 inspection teams are wrong."
The editorial concludes, "In arguing for more time and better proof before anyone embarked on so risky and irreversible a course as war, Mr. Blix got it right."
Rolf Paasch in the "Frankfurter Rundschau" says the report delivered to the UN Security Council yesterday by chief weapons inspector Hans Blix has "proved exactly what Washington feared: the U.S. is mired in the 'inspections trap' and its allies -- specifically the French and the Germans -- will keep it in that position."
As for those opposing a possible war with Iraq, the report has only served as proof of what was assumed all along: the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush had decided on a military attack long ago. This places Europe in a corresponding "war trap," says Paasch. Through their unyielding resistance, they may force the U.S. to take action on its own, or they may play for time by insisting on the adoption of a second UN resolution authorizing force.
In examining the underlying motives of Security Council members, Paasch says that the issue at hand is no longer whether Iraq has weapons of mass destruction. Concerns are now more focused on "national interest and diplomatic positioning -- those who fear a complete collapse of the threat scenario, as opposed to those who fear the mounting momentum."
The dilemma lies in whether to adhere to the demands of the inspectors to be given more time, or to accede to U.S. military plans. Paasch says, "The final decision will be made in the White House."
In France's daily "Liberation," Gerard Dupuy says chief weapons inspector Hans Blix's remarks to the UN Security Council yesterday were carefully nuanced so as to be perfectly ambiguous. But by remaining open to the possibility of prolonged inspections, he says the hawkish leaders in both Washington and London have shown they are willing to let the UN continue its work.
This is somewhat due to pressure from public opinion, which seems less and less convinced of the necessity of an attack, but it is also part of a longer-term calculation. Since the UN would likely be involved in deciding the fate of a postwar Iraq, it is important to keep on good terms with the other members of the international organization.
A commentary in the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" discusses the concerns in today's general elections in Israel, in which Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's right-wing Likud Party is favored to win the most parliamentary seats. The chief issue at stake is the question of peace with the Palestinians.
Although Sharon is agreeing with U.S. plans for peace, the commentary says he is really not in agreement. On the eve of the elections, Israeli Defense Minister Shau Mofaz declared that his government is considering the reoccupation of the Gaza Strip in retaliation for Palestinian rocket attacks. The UN has pronounced three-quarters of this area, one of the most densely populated areas on Earth, as a Palestinian autonomous zone. But Sharon's avowed intention to reoccupy the Gaza Strip is "music to the ears of the undecided voters."
The "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" says it seems Sharon's determination to obstruct all diplomatic peace initiatives as long as the Palestinian intifada goes on will carry the election.
THE IRISH TIMES:
In "The Irish Times," David Horovitz writes from Jerusalem saying the election campaign of opposition Labor Party leader Amram Mitzna has been based on a willingness to negotiate with the Palestinians and his support for a unilateral Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and most of the West Bank. However, these positions appear to be "unpalatable" to the majority of Israelis, who are expected to re-elect more hard-line Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. Continuing suicide bombings have swung the electorate to the right and convinced Israelis that Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat has betrayed his promise to stop terrorism.
Horovitz says a "bitter irony" of the elections is that, "in re-electing Mr. Sharon, Israelis are almost guaranteeing that there will be [no] change" in Palestinian leadership "for the foreseeable future. For Mr. Sharon refuses to offer the slightest encouragement" to Palestinian moderates.
Sharon "speaks in the vaguest terms of being prepared to make 'painful compromises' for peace, but at the same time indicates an unwillingness to dismantle so much as a single settlement." Horovitz adds: "Two years after he was first elected, Ariel Sharon has done nothing to quell the relentless toll of conflict. The Israeli economy has collapsed. Unemployment is rising. Immigration levels are falling." But for most Israelis, he says, Sharon still seems "the least worst choice."
In the regional daily "Eurasia View," Josh Machleder of Internews Uzbekistan says a decade of "persistent repression in Uzbekistan has left the country's political life under the firm control of President Islam Karimov."
Machleder continues, "Uzbekistan's democratic political opposition has been effectively silenced." Two viable alternative parties, Birlik and Erk, were part of Uzbek political life in the early 1990s. But in 1992, the government began to crack down on the political opposition with attacks and harassment, "[making] open political activity impossible."
But there may be "a fresh opening for opposition political activity in Uzbekistan. The Uzbek leader has stated that he was prepared to meet with exiled opposition members who wanted to [return], provided that they were 'constructive'" and did not seek the overthrow of the government.
Since the 11 September 2001 attacks in the U.S., Uzbekistan has engaged "in close strategic cooperation with the United States" in its Afghan campaign, in return for "extensive economic and security assistance." While many Birlik and Erk supporters "remain skeptical that Karimov's government will actually permit open political activity by the opposition, [the] government's tentative efforts [to] permit activity by opposition political parties and human rights groups can be seen as a positive development."
However, Machleder says Karimov's government seems "intent [on] opening up only enough to ensure that Tashkent continues to reap the economic benefits of ongoing strategic cooperation with the U.S.-led anti-terrorism coalition."
THE NEW YORK TIMES:
An editorial in "The New York Times" reprinted in today's "International Herald Tribune" says: "Afghanistan remains in a precarious state. Roads, water and electricity are highly unreliable, crime is rampant and regional warlords are bringing back restrictions on women." The measures taken by the United States so far to remedy this situation have thus far been "limited and poorly designed."
But the paper says the U.S.-led "war on terrorism" will prove "meaningless" unless it is committed to preventing the return of the instability and lawlessness "in which the Taliban and Al-Qaeda thrived." But so far it does not seem the United States "has learned significant lessons in Afghanistan about securing peace when the fighting is over. When it fails to follow up its overwhelmingly superior military force with civilian capabilities adapted to the task of reconstruction, it lets down the very people for whom it went to war."
The paper says that, as a possible conflict in Iraq draws near, "it is all the more vital that the United States keep its word to rebuild a viable society in Afghanistan."
(RFE/RL's Dora Slaba contributed to this report.)