Prague, 25 February 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Western press commentary today continues the debate over a possible U.S.-led war in Iraq in the wake of a draft resolution submitted yesterday to the UN Security Council by the United States, Britain, and Spain. The draft alleges that Iraq has failed to disarm and may pave the way for military action to force compliance. France and Germany oppose the draft resolution and have submitted a rival proposal calling for the extension of UN inspections by several months. Russia and China have backed the French-German proposal.
Other issues discussed today include the inauguration of South Korea's new president, Roh Moo-hyun, which is scheduled for today and will be attended by U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell. Powell is in Asia to discuss the North Korean nuclear threat and the U.S. stance on Iraq with regional powers. Turkey's role in a possible conflict in Iraq and the humanitarian consequences of military action are also discussed in the Western media today.
THE NEW YORK TIMES:
An editorial in "The New York Times" discusses the draft resolution submitted to the UN Security Council yesterday by the United States, Britain, and Spain, supported by Bulgaria. The draft declares that Iraq has effectively failed to disarm, paving the way for possible military action to dismantle its suspected weapons of mass destruction.
France and Germany oppose the draft resolution and have submitted a rival proposal calling for the extension of UN inspections for at least another four months. Russia and China have backed the French-German proposal.
But the editorial says the UN Security Council should support the U.S.-backed proposal, because a council "visibly moving toward authorizing forces is the last remote hope of getting Iraq to disarm peacefully." "Winning majority support for this resolution and avoiding a veto will take deft diplomacy," says the editorial, adding: "Wisely, Washington and London have decided not to push for a quick decision. Instead they are aiming for a vote by the second week in March. That will give hesitant council members a further chance to gauge Iraqi conduct on core issues," including compliance with chief weapons inspector Hans Blix's demand that Baghdad begin destroying illegal missiles by the end of this week.
The paper says Iraq has allowed three months to go by without offering any "meaningful cooperation" with weapons inspectors. And it "seems inconceivable that without the pressure of this latest resolution, Iraq will reverse itself and disarm."
The British daily "The Guardian's" Julian Borger writes from Washington saying the UN draft resolution tabled yesterday by Britain, the United States, and Spain "is far milder than the document Washington originally had in mind, reflecting entrenched Security Council opposition." "But," Borger says, "it still spells war."
The key line in the draft, he says, lies in "operational paragraph number one." In a single line, the Security Council affirms "that Iraq has failed to take the final opportunity afforded to it" by the 8 November UN Resolution 1441, which threatened Iraq with "serious consequences" for failing to comply.
The draft restates that Resolution 1441 and 16 prior UN resolutions on disarming Iraq have not been honored, and "recalls the observation made in 1441 that Baghdad was already in material breach." It goes on to restate allegations made by 1441 that Iraq has made "false statements" on the declaration of its weapons programs it submitted to the UN in December, and says Baghdad has failed to fully cooperate with UN weapons inspectors.
The draft goes on to remark that Iraq's noncompliance with UN resolutions on disarmament poses a threat to international security.
But Borger says instead "of issuing an explicit ultimatum in the language of the draft, the U.S. and Britain decided to suggest an 'implicit' deadline with informal remarks suggesting there were two weeks to go before a vote."
THE CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR:
An editorial in "The Christian Science Monitor" describes South Korea's new President Roh Moo-hyun as a populist and former human rights lawyer who disagrees with the U.S. administration's hard-line stance on neighboring nuclear power North Korea. Roh's desire to rely on "dialogue and aid with North Korea, instead of sanctions and threats" could lead to increasing tensions with the United States, but his stance represents the views of many South Koreans who fear negative fallout from a collapse of the North Korean regime.
U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, who will attend Roh's swearing-in ceremony today, will try to find common ground with the new South Korean leader. The paper says that, all things considered, South Korea is "too dependent on the U.S. for its economic well-being to stray much from the U.S. line." Nevertheless, Roh's election reflects "popular demand for more reform within South Korea, and an uneasiness with U.S. bases on its soil. The U.S. cannot ignore that sentiment."
South Korea and the U.S. "can't afford a split," says the paper. "That would only work to North Korea's advantage." To avoid this outcome, it says Secretary Powell will need to "exercise deft diplomacy" on his visit "to keep South Korea as a close ally."
Karl Grobe, writing in the "Frankfurter Rundschau," looks at U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell's trip to Asia, which he describes as a "shopping tour." Powell is using all means at his disposal to get regional support for the U.S. stance on both North Korea and Iraq. He is using as leverage threats to cut off economic aid, as well as political concessions and promises of economic support.
This particularly applies to China, which has a decisive voice in the UN Security Council. Powell has praised Beijing's stance on North Korea, pledged not to interfere on the Tibet issue, and, above all, is wooing China with economic benefits. The U.S. does not expect China to agree to its UN Security Council resolution on Iraq, but it wants at the very least to ensure its abstention. Grobe says this may prove expensive, but Powell is well equipped to pay up.
THE WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE:
In a contribution to "The Wall Street Journal Europe," former NATO commander and military analyst General Wesley Clark discusses some of the difficulties inherent in Turkish participation in a possible U.S.-led war in Iraq. After public negotiations that Clark describes as "embarrassing and ugly," he says Ankara may now be on the way to agreement on allowing U.S. forces the use of Turkish bases. But he says the "squabbling over price," with Ankara eventually settling on $15 billion in a mixture of cash and loan guarantees, has "[undercut] the legitimacy of U.S. aims and methods in the region."
Ultimately, Clark says, the United States bought Turkish cooperation and "[wartime] access at the cost of significant postwar complications." Turkey "sees its vital interests at risk in a U.S.-led war: It must prevent the emergence of a separate Kurdish state; it must prevent wholesale movement of Kurdish refugees into Turkey, which would exacerbate internal security concerns; and it must gain the prompt resumption of full oil flows from Iraq." To prevent the emergence of a Kurdish state, Ankara "will want Kurdish forces disarmed [and] access to and influence over the post-conflict Iraqi government." As a result, the United States will need to be very cautious as it attempts to "reassure Turkey while recognizing legitimate Kurdish concerns about the shape of a post-conflict Iraq and their role in it."
THE WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE:
In a second item on the subject in the European edition of "The Wall Street Journal," David Phillips of the Council of Foreign Relations' Center for Preventive Action says Iraqi Kurds generally welcome the prospect of U.S. forces in Iraq, but are gravely concerned about the possibility of Turkish troops following the Americans into Iraq in order to establish a buffer zone in the north to prevent an influx of Kurdish refugees.
Turkish officials "are concerned that a semi-autonomous zone in Iraqi Kurdistan might become a way station on the path to independence," Phillips says. An independent Kurdistan could invigorate the push for independence among Turkey's several-million-strong Kurdish minority. "Worried that a war with Iraq may inspire resurgent Kurdish nationalism throughout the region, Ankara has announced a state of emergency and is re-establishing military rule in several provinces along Turkey's border with Iraq."
Phillips says Iraq's Kurds "may be able to tolerate a limited Turkish deployment to help carry out relief operations" after a U.S.-led invasion. "They are, however, gravely concerned that Ankara may seek some pretext for expanding the Turkish military presence in Iraqi Kurdistan and may never leave."
Columnist Torsten Krauel of Germany's "Die Welt" warns of the consequences for the Kurds in northern Iraq in the event of war.
With Turkey finally ready to sign an accord to host U.S. troops, Kurdish officials in northern Iraq have begun to warn of turmoil and armed conflict if, as part of the deal, thousands of Turkish troops enter the hills and towns where Kurds have enjoyed self-government for a decade under cover of U.S. and British air patrols.
Krauel says the Kurdish issue is one of the last unresolved problems left over from the days of colonialism in the region. Among the Iraqi Kurds a strong will for independence prevails. If they gained the control of the oil fields in Mossul and Kirkuk, this would serve as a solid economic foundation for a Kurdish state. However, says Krauel, "Ankara wants to prevent this at all costs: A Kurdish republic in northern Iraq might crystallize a nationalist movement among the Kurds within Turkey, which in turn might jeopardize Turkey's very existence," he says.
The Kurdish issue is a cornerstone of future policy in the Middle East, says Krauel. Whether this was the original desire or not, a war against Saddam Hussein will initiate a new order for the entire region. This was clear to the Turks from the beginning. "And it will be the Turks who sway the balance," says Krauel.
THE BOSTON GLOBE:
In a contribution to "The Boston Globe," international public-health consultant Cesar Chelala discusses the potential humanitarian impact of a conflict in Iraq. The Iraqi people "have experienced two grueling wars in the recent past -- one against Iran and the 1991 Gulf War -- which have resulted in hundreds of thousands of dead, most of them civilians." A new conflict would further undermine the country's health infrastructure "and lead to the suffering and death of huge numbers of civilians," he says.
"As a result of the skewed priorities of the current Iraqi regime and of the economic sanctions imposed against it, a country that was once rich and prosperous has suffered a dramatic decline in the health and quality of life of the general population." Cesar says it is estimated that "only 47 percent of the population has access to clean water in rural areas." One in five of Iraq's children is chronically malnourished. The major reasons for this include "the breakdown of power grids and water distribution networks following the last two major wars, and more than a decade of international sanctions against the Iraqi regime. Before these events, the Iraqi people had the best health care services in the region."
Cesar says although "there is every reason to want [President] Saddam Hussein out of power in Iraq, any action against him should be contemplated taking into account the serious humanitarian consequences of such action."
Following the submission of a draft resolution by the United States, Britain, and Spain declaring Iraq's material failure to disarm, and in the wake of a French-German-Russian counterproposal calling for more inspections, the French daily "Le Monde" says there is now a diplomatic scramble at the UN Security Council, as each camp tries to woo the support of other council members. The Security Council is set to meet again on 27 February, after members have had time to study both texts.
The paper says that according to U.S. national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, the White House will seek a decision on its proposed resolution sometime after chief weapons inspector Hans Blix delivers his next progress report on Iraqi disarmament on 7 March. A majority of nine of the 15 council members must approve a resolution, which also must avoid a veto by any of the five permanent members -- Russia, China, France, Britain, or the United States. To achieve this majority support, the paper says the United States is prepared to launch an intense diplomatic offensive.
The French daily goes on to say that, among nations not currently sitting on the Security Council, Australia and Japan have already stated their support for the draft proposed by London, Washington, and Madrid, whereas Belgium opposes it, calling for every chance for a peaceful solution to be exhausted.
Tomas Avenarius in the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" looks at former Russian Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov's trip to Baghdad over the weekend. President Vladimir Putin sent him to meet with Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein in what analysts called a last-ditch attempt to hold off a U.S.-led attack.
Moscow is conducting a balancing act in its policy toward Iraq as it tries to pursue its own political and economic interests. Officially, diplomats keep repeating that the role of UN weapons inspectors is still not complete. On the other hand, it is questionable whether President Putin is willing to relinquish the skillful manipulation of his strategic friendship with the United States that he has had since 11 September by considering a veto of the U.S.-backed resolution in the Security Council.
Avenarius says Primakov might have been trying to persuade Saddam Hussein either to put a brake on his armament ambitions or perhaps even resign. But Avenarius writes: "Primakov already failed once in such a mission before the first Gulf War. Soon after his last attempt, the war began."
(RFE/RL's Dora Slaba contributed to this report.)