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Western Press Review: Iraq Debate, Human Trafficking, And A Plan For Redrawing The Balkans

Prague, 24 February 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Deliberations continue in Western press commentary today and over the weekend over a possible U.S.-led war in Iraq. The Western media also has recently turned its attention to the issue of human trafficking, as thousands of men, women, and children are sexually exploited each year, as well as Eastern Europe's position on the Iraq controversy and looking at Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic's plan for redrawing the Balkans.


In "The Washington Post," columnist William Raspberry says he believed U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell to be "the one member of the president's inner circle [we] could count on" to tell the truth on Iraq. But in the weeks following Powell's case for war before the UN Security Council (5 February), Raspberry says he is beginning to think that Powell's "interpretation of facts and circumstances assumes [many] things and ignores so many others."

Raspberry says the argument seems to be "that Saddam Hussein has defied the United Nations; therefore the United States must punish him." But one gets the sense that U.S. President George W. Bush is convinced he has to "[launch] this war before someone talks him out of it. The chief weapons inspector [Hans Blix] tells us he's found nothing and wants more time. The administration, certain the inspectors won't find anything, thinks we're wasting time." The Bush team seems just to want to declare Iraq in "material breach" and then declare war.

Raspberry says the Iraqi leader may, indeed, be "stalling" -- "the same way he's been stalling for a dozen years. A dozen years, by the way, during which he has attacked no one, gassed no one, launched terror attacks on no one."

Perhaps this is because of U.S. pressure on his regime, Raspberry muses. In that case, he says, "Great! Isn't that better than a U.S.-launched war guaranteed to engender massive slaughter and spread terrorism?"


An item in Britain's "The Daily Telegraph" says the United States and Britain do not need a second UN resolution to formally sanction the use of force to ensure Iraq's disarmament. The paper says a second resolution would help the U.S. and British administrations persuade skeptics of the legitimacy and necessity of military action. But UN Resolution 1441, unanimously adopted by the Security Council on 8 November, has already threatened "serious consequences" should Iraq not provide "immediate, unconditional and active cooperation."

The two reports from chief weapons inspector Hans Blix thus far have already shown Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to be delaying, says the paper. Such "foot-dragging," it says, has demonstrated that the Iraqi leader "is already in breach of 1441."


Regarding the continuing debate over the use of force in Iraq, an editorial in "The New York Times" says: "There's nothing less satisfying than calling for still more discussion. But more discussion is the only road that will get the world to the right outcome -- concerted effort by a wide coalition of nations to force Saddam Hussein to give up his weapons of mass destruction."

The Iraqi leader "has been skillful at providing the pretense of progress to international inspectors without seriously cooperating," says the paper. Iraq has drawn the United Nations into a situation in which the burden has been placed on inspectors "to sniff out hidden weapons. All this puts an enormous weight on whether Hans Blix, the chief UN inspector, chooses to dwell on Iraqi resistance or points to areas of cooperation."

The editorial goes on to say, "All too often, U.S. officials have undermined their own case by demonstrating reckless enthusiasm for a brawl, denigrating allies who fail to fall in line, or overstating their case against Iraq, particularly when it comes to a link between Saddam Hussein and Al-Qaeda."

But on the other hand, it has also been patient in providing the UN with the time to come to a decision in the Security Council on the use of force. But that paper says eventually, perhaps "sometime in March, the United States may have to decide whether it should do the job on its own."


A commentary in the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" describes Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic as a "firebrand" for calling for a revision of borders in the Balkans.

The paper says: "If Belgrade genuinely intends a separation of the Serbian-dominated region around Mitrovica from the rest of Kosovo, which it is threatening at present, this would lead to a chain reaction. It is fairly certain this would result in a conflagration; notably Kosovo, the Albanian regions in south Serbia, and parts of Macedonia would be in flames." And there would be little chance to stem these developments.

At best, the government can hope to minimize the conflict between Albanians and Slavs. Djindjic claims that he is supporting Kosovo, because otherwise there is a danger extreme nationalists would come to power in the elections next year and would bring to an end all hopes for democracy and reform.

But the paper says that if Djindjic felt genuine responsibility rather than pursuing his own ambitions to stay in power, he would try to calm the situation rather than choose to promote nationalist sentiment.


An editorial in "The New York Times" says the Russian parliament, the Duma, "took a much-needed step toward cracking down [on] brutal human trafficking" last week when it drafted a law that would require the government to publicize warnings of "the deceitful methods used to turn women and children into modern-day sex slaves."

The bill, which still needs to be approved by the government "and then enforced by police," would "make trafficking in humans illegal. And it would require authorities to provide real help for those forced into servitude."

The paper says the draft law "will not solve the problem. But without it, criminal gangs will be freer to earn an estimated $7 billion a year trafficking in unwilling prostitutes." Human rights groups have suggested that thousands of Russians, and thousands from other countries, "are trafficked to underground brothels around the world."

The United States issues a yearly list of nations that are "significant" contributors to the growing trafficking in humans. As of this year, the law allows the U.S. president to withhold aid or impose sanctions on countries that "fail to make an effort to combat this scourge." The paper says this threat "is an important tool to force governments like Russia's to lock up slave traders and help their desperate victims."


An investigative report by John Gibb in Britain's "The Observer" on 23 February tells the stories of several women and girls who were forced to work as prostitutes in the West. In some Eastern European and Asian societies, it is now common for women to migrate and work overseas in hopes of a better life or to support their families.

Trafficked women often fall victim by unsuspectingly answering advertisements for jobs as waitresses, models, or domestic helpers. Their money and passports are then confiscated by traffickers, denying them any freedom of movement or the ability to return home. They are beaten, locked up, and threatened into working as prostitutes.

Gibb says even language schools "are often used to gain access into the U.K. by criminals trafficking in women." A "school" accepts an application and sends an enrollment form. "The student takes it to the British embassy and applies for a visa. When she arrives in the U.K., she is met by the trafficker and disappears."

Gibb says in Britain, the authorities do not have the resources to deal with illegal prostitution and trafficking. Moreover, convicting traffickers often relies on their victims being persuaded to give evidence and testify. But he says this is "virtually impossible in the U.K., where victims are treated as illegal immigrants" instead of as victims of a crime.

These women are "rarely encouraged [to] give evidence. Investigations against traffickers are expensive and time consuming [and] there is a high risk of failure."


Karl-Peter Schwarz in the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" explains how "credit has been lost" as a result of the conflicting attitudes in Europe toward NATO.

He says: "The Iraq conflict has created confusion and revived old anxieties among new members, NATO candidates, and the European Union. This is due to the fact that the process of expansion to include Eastern European countries requires American support as well as German and French backing."

Taking this into account, he says the threat that Eastern European countries might not be admitted into the EU made last week by French President Jacques Chirac is "groundless." But he adds, "On the other hand, the U.S. is also sending a clear message in saying that NATO members and candidates are expected to be loyal and supportive [of the U.S.] in the war against terrorism."

The dispute, says Schwarz, has overlooked that this expression of solidarity is not so much concerned with support of U.S. President George W. Bush's policy toward Iraq, but rather "a growing mistrust toward the Paris-Berlin axis, which on the issue of Iraq looks more toward Moscow and Peking."

Schwarz says, "East of the River Elbe the opinion persists that U.S. foreign policy transcends national interests [and] is concerned with asserting a universal world order," which takes into account the well-being of smaller nations. America enjoys an amount of trust in the East that it does not in Germany, Russia, and France.


In France's "Liberation," Gerard Dupuy says the United Nations often has a "thankless" role, since while history is often made outside its walls, the UN is often sent in afterward to manage the fallout and mediate the remaining impasses.

Held in check by the major powers, the UN has been reduced to the endless mediation of its blue berets between warring parties; it thus finds itself participating in the absence of a solution. By pressuring the UN to act to enforce its resolutions on Iraq, the United States is challenging the UN's incapacity to find solutions rather than delaying.

Those advocating military action on Iraq are aware that launching military operations against Iraq without specific UN authorization would accomplish two things at once -- it would marginalize the United Nations organization while finishing off Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's regime in Baghdad. Thus far, the United States has agreed to take part in the institutionalized dialogue of the UN, says Dupuy. But he reminds us that the U.S. administration has repeatedly stated it would not feel limited by the UN's refusal to sanction military action.

This would not be the first time the UN would be rendered powerless, he says. But it would be the first time it was officially so.

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