Prague, 4 February 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Among the topics addressed by the Western media today are U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell's address tomorrow to the UN Security Council, in which he is expected to present evidence that Iraq is concealing weapons of mass destruction.
Press commentary also looks at the possible nuclear threat posed by North Korea and bids farewell to Yugoslavia, which has now been replaced by a union to be known as Serbia and Montenegro. Also discussed are the humor and conscience of newly retired Czech President Vaclav Havel; Hungary's controversial House of Terror museum, which documents its past under communist and fascist regimes; and the persistent attempts to undermine the political opposition in Central Asia.
THE WASHINGTON TIMES:
In "The Washington Times," Frank Gaffney of the Center for Security Policy says the U.S. administration "clearly hopes" that Secretary of State Colin Powell's address at the UN tomorrow will shore up international support for military action in Iraq and help lay to rest any doubts about the necessity for action.
Much will rely on what sort of intelligence on Iraqi weapons programs the United States will reveal to its allies on the Security Council. But Gaffney warns that information that reveals what and how the U.S. knows about Iraq's "prohibited activities [will] greatly complicate the job of any U.S.-led coalition charged with disarming Iraq [via] military means."
But Gaffney says irrefutable proof might be supplied instead by Abu Hamdi Mahmoud, a recent defector from the Iraqi leadership's senior ranks. Mahmoud is now in Israel, where he has allegedly revealed that Iraq maintains an underground chemical-weapons facility in Baghdad, continues to assemble Scud missiles, and is storing biological weapons underground.
Gaffney says this sort of information is precisely why Iraqi President Saddam Hussein "has been so insistent that the UN inspectors not be able to hold real and productive interviews with his scientists and other personnel." And it is why Powell "must flatly declare Iraq to be in material breach of its obligations."
Uwe Schmitt, writing in "Die Welt," also looks at the prospects for U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell's much-anticipated revelations at the UN tomorrow. Powell is due to present photographs of mobile biological weapons factories and transcripts of intercepted conversations to convince allies that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein has potent arsenals in defiance of UN demands for his disarmament.
Schmitt cites Powell as saying that he is only making this presentation to the Security Council in order to make clear to the 15 members of the council that whoever is not prepared to join the U.S. in forcing the compliance of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein will become irrelevant to the United States henceforward.
Yet Schmitt describes Powell as, "on the whole, a pacified general with good manners." He says Powell is only prepared to launch military ventures if he is backed by an overwhelming military force.
He has been lauded by European liberals as a statesman who wants to avoid war, while American hawks see Powell as a thorn in President George W. Bush's side. The questions naturally arise: Is Powell likely to fall out of favor? Does he serve as an alibi for the liberals or is he a wolf in sheep's clothing?
As for Bush, says Schmitt, "He needs a diplomat." And Bush feels that there are some benefits to be provided by "a diplomat with war experience," such as Powell.
The lead editorial in Britain's "The Guardian" says a military confrontation between the United States and North Korea "may be approaching more quickly than many realize and ironically, faster than the U.S. itself would like."
Recently leaked intelligence suggesting North Korea may be actively producing weapons-grade plutonium "was downplayed by the White House," the paper says. "But subsequent moves, again not candidly announced, to send immediate U.S. reinforcements [to] South Korea and Guam indicate an accelerating deterioration" of the situation.
"The Guardian" says North Korea's immediate aims seem fairly "straightforward: survival, leverage, recognition, aid -- especially fuel." The paper says Pyongyang should clearly respect the nuclear non-proliferation treaty and end its trade in missiles. "But equally clearly, it is not going to do so while it feels itself to be under existential threat" from U.S. President George W. Bush, who has condemned North Korea as an "evil, outlaw" regime and has said that he "loathes" its leader, Kim Jong-il.
The paper says Washington has undermined Seoul's and Tokyo's attempts at diplomacy, while refusing direct talks with Pyongyang. This "confusion" stems from Bush's fixation with Iraq, "regardless of relative threat levels" posed by the two nations. "But North Korea, exploiting the Iraq preoccupation, may not politely wait until the U.S. is ready to attack," the paper says. Its next move might be a "provocative nuclear or missile test."
THE CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR:
"The Christian Science Monitor" today bids farewell to Yugoslavia, which has been replaced by what the paper calls an "awkward" union to be known as Serbia and Montenegro.
The paper says the Balkans will be better off now that the Yugoslav federation has disintegrated. Yugoslavia's "historic attempt" to unite multiple ethnic groups into one country failed, it says. Subsequent leaders clung to power by ruling with an iron fist or inspiring a bloody nationalism that eventually led to the federation's fractious demise.
But the paper says the new union of Serbia and Montenegro leaves Kosovo "hanging in uncertainty." The majority ethnic Albanian enclave has been a ward of the international community since its 1999 war with Serbia. Whether it will declare independence from Serbia remains a subject of speculation.
But the paper says, "Until Kosovo is allowed to decide its own future, the world must make sure there's no repeat of the repressive history once demonstrated in Yugoslavia."
THE WALL STREET JOURNAL:
An editorial in "The Wall Street Journal" today discusses the controversy over Hungary's House of Terror museum, which documents the nation's past under communist and fascist regimes from 1944 to 1989. Since former communists retook power last spring, the museum has been a divisive topic, amid parliamentary attempts to slash its funding and stack the museum's board of directors.
But the editorial says the museum represents a unique and worthy attempt "to come to terms with the horrors of the 20th century in Central Europe." These historical events "need to be remembered as clearly as possible," ironically, so these countries can forget and move on. The House of Terror exhibit is "modern and effective [and] fair," the paper says.
The House of Terror museum "and other attempts to document the crimes of fascism and communism are essential to the future not only of Hungary but all of Europe."
INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE:
An item in the "International Herald Tribune" by columnist Joseph Fitchett calls newly retired Czech President Vaclav Havel "the most extraordinary statesman who emerged from the struggle to overthrow communism in Eastern Europe."
Fitchett says Havel remained driven by the revolution's two main imperatives -- modernization and maintaining a sense of morality -- first during his dissident days, then as president. Playwright-President Havel "emerged as the only leader brought to the top by the 1989 events who made the transition from resistance to rule, and then survived as a champion of democracy."
His retirement on 2 February has deprived world politics "of a global conscience with a sense of humor that kept hubris in place," Fitchett writes. Even after coming to power in 1989, Havel "continued, candidly, to question his own ability to remain true to his conscience."
INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE:
In a contribution to the "International Herald Tribune," Hady Amr, an ex-adviser to former U.S. Vice President Al Gore and an observer of West Bank living conditions, writes from Ramallah that "a remarkable 72 percent of Palestinians are willing to embrace nonviolent resistance to the Israeli occupation." A corresponding 72 percent of Israeli Jews "would accept a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders if Palestinians would stop using violence."
But if there is such substantial support for peace on both sides, why can't they agree on a solution? Amr asks. He says many are willing to make concessions for peace only if the other side ceases hostilities. Yet the continuing "horror of violent acts hardens positions on both sides of this divide," Amr writes.
Many Israelis seem to ignore "the regular nonviolent protests by Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. A suicide bombing that kills only a few speaks louder than thousands of hours of Palestinian nonviolent protest," Amr says.
In addition, the 65 percent of Israelis who believe "their army should show restraint [to encourage] nonviolent forms of Palestinian protest need to step to the fore before the Palestinian constituency for peace is crushed under the weight of Israeli military occupation."
Neither Israeli nor Palestinian leaders seem to be reflecting the will of their people with official policy, says Amr. "So community leaders in Israel and Palestine need to bypass their elected executives and undertake direct action in a forceful but nonviolent way."
Marc Hujer in the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" says that "to be a superpower is relentlessly expensive." Since U.S. President George W. Bush has been in office he has achieved a sad economic record. Within a mere two years Bush has managed to plunge the economy from a satisfying surplus into an enormous deficit -- and now, on top of this, war with Iraq seems imminent.
If the war against Iraq really must be waged, then Bush has no economic alternative. He not only has to finance the war, but he must guide the U.S. economy out of its slump. There is no doubt that the president could have found better use for the American taxpayers' money. But one thing is now clear -- he must try to curb, as far as possible, the economic consequences of the war. Just when the American economy is recovering from the results of the previous "new-economy" hype, there is no foreseeing the outcome for the economy when war anxieties begin to reflect on the market and consumers.
The United States has complained time and again about the weakness of the economies in Europe and Japan, and it has rightly demanded structural reforms. "In actual fact," says Hujer, "it is profiting from the weakness of others." Although other countries are struggling under debt, this has not prevented these countries from investing in America, which is still considered the strongest economy. "As long as there are no more radical changes, America will continue to be a superpower, even without any money of its own," Hujer concludes.
In the regional daily "Eurasia View," Irakly Areshidze of the Johns Hopkins Central Asia-Caucasus Institute discusses a 3 February attack on the headquarters of Georgia's New Rightists party, its largest opposition group. Two dozen heavily armed men targeted New Rightists leader David Gamkrelidze, who was meeting with other opposition figures at the time.
Sources from the government of President Eduard Shevardnadze alleged the attack was part of an interparty struggle and that the attackers were supporters of the New Rightists' former co-chairman, who left the party over the weekend after a budget dispute.
But Areshidze, who was an eyewitness to the attack, says, "It seems almost impossible that such an incident could have been simply an interparty fight, given the gravity of the attack." Opposition leaders claim that so many armed individuals "could not have reached the headquarters of the New Rightists party [had] they not received support from the government." The headquarters is located 100 meters from a road frequented daily by Shevardnadze that is "continuously protected by hundreds of special security forces."
Areshidze says many politicians and political analysts have compared the 3 February attacks to the 1994 slaying of Gia Chanturia, the head of what was then Georgia's leading opposition National Democratic Party. Areshidze concludes this latest attack "serves as a harbinger of possible violence connected with parliamentary elections" later this year. Some opposition leaders believe the government will take "drastic measures" to maintain control over the legislature.
A second "Eurasia View" item today dealing with the difficulties faced by the political opposition in Central Asia says that, as widely expected, Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev has declared victory after a nationwide referendum on the adoption of a new constitution.
But opposition leaders accuse the administration of illegally manipulating the referendum's results. The Kyrgyz Committee for Human Rights (KCHR) claims to have documented numerous voting irregularities. In some areas, election officials, hoping to boost turnout, carried ballot boxes from house to house, contrary to Kyrgyz law, which prohibits citizens from casting ballots from home except in extreme cases.
The KCHR "also complained that authorities hampered opposition-oriented activists from observing the counting of ballots" and engaged in vote buying. "Earlier, authorities had threatened opposition activists with prison terms if they engaged in activity that was deemed to undermine turnout in the referendum."
(RFE/RL's Dora Slaba contributed to this report.)