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Western Press Review: The Problems Of Power, Humanitarian Aid, And Iran's Local Elections

Prague, 7 March 2003 (RFE/RL) -- As UN chief weapons inspector Hans Blix prepares to present a fourth report to the UN Security Council today, commentary in the major Western dailies weighs Russia's stance on a possible war in Iraq, anticipates Turkey's eventual military cooperation, and takes a look at how to deal with the potential humanitarian fallout of war. Other issues discussed include the role of religion in European society, the problem of power highlighted by the Iraq debate, and the low voter turnout in Iran's 28 February local elections.


An editorial in "The Daily Telegraph" says Russia is "torn two ways" in the debate over the possible use of force to disarm Iraq. On one hand, the editorial says there is the allure of aligning with France and Germany in opposition to the draft resolution authorizing military action. Moscow could thus help consolidate Europe's voice while undermining the United States, often been a derivative goal of Kremlin diplomacy.

The paper says as chief weapons inspector Hans Blix prepares to deliver his fourth report to the UN Security Council today, Russia is reminding the United States that its new spirit of cooperation with Washington "should not be taken for granted."

But as a counterweight to these considerations, Russian President Vladimir Putin has also shrewdly calculated that in order to modernize Russia's economy and avoid the Kremlin's being marginalized in international events, he needs to nurture his new relationship with the United States. Moscow would also like to see the oil and gas contracts it signed with Baghdad be honored in a postwar era. Thus "it would be unwise" to offend the United States, which will likely determine postwar settlements in Iraq.

The editorial goes on to say a "yes" vote from Russia authorizing force in the Security Council would look "weak," while a "no" vote would be "counterproductive." Thus, it predicts, Moscow will most likely opt for abstaining.


A commentary in the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" discusses Turkey's diplomatic position in light of its parliament's refusal to allow U.S. troops to use Turkish military bases to launch attacks on Iraq in the event of war.

The commentary says Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan is in "an unenviable position," faced as he is with a majority of the Turkish public opposed to a U.S.-led war in Iraq. He risks widespread public indignation if he permits the U.S to station some 62,000 troops on Turkish soil.

The paper questions whether Turkey's rejection of the U.S. proposal is merely creating a diplomatic fuss, or whether Washington has actually increased its economic pressure on economically weak Turkey.

Meanwhile, the paper says, U.S. convoys are on their way, so it seems the U.S. is firmly convinced there will eventually be an official "yes" from Ankara. But Erdogan is biding his time until the results emerge from the vote in the UN Security Council before demanding another vote on the Iraq issue in his own parliament. Any such vote should decide the controversy over American bases as well as determine his future as prime minister. Most importantly for Erdogan at present, says the commentary, is to play for time.


In a joint contribution to "The Washington Post," former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Defense for public affairs Kenneth Bacon, now of Refugees International, and George Rapp of the International Rescue Committee say neither the United States nor the world community has made sufficient preparations for the aftermath of a possible war in Iraq.

In these days of modern warfare, they say, precision-guided bombs are able to limit civilian casualties during the conflict. As a result, "most death and suffering occurs in the post-conflict period, when people are displaced, poorly fed or prone to disease because water sanitation and sewage systems have been disabled. This means that rapid humanitarian intervention is just as important to holding casualties down as quick military victory."

The most urgent need Iraqis may face is food. The United States has shipped close to 3 million daily rations to the region to help feed Iraqis. But the authors say these meal packets "will feed only a tiny portion of Iraq's 24 million people, and for just a few days." Moreover, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees has raised less than a third of the $60 million it is seeking "for tents, stoves, blankets and other materials for refugee camps."

Despite months of planning, the authors say, "preparations for dealing with displacement, injury, illness and food shortages remain inadequate." If this situation continues, "the suffering caused by war could be amplified by lack of aid resources and coordination."


Writing in Britain's "The Independent," columnist Adrian Hamilton says the crisis over Iraq's disarmament has highlighted the problems of power in the world.

The United Nations is "the most obvious victim," he says. The U.S. administration maintains the UN will be marginalized if Washington undertakes military action to disarm Iraq without UN approval. But if the Security Council does approve force, then it may viewed as merely "a rubber stamp for [Washington's] policies."

The UN will survive, says Hamilton, "because there is no global alternative" for many issues, "from refugees to policies on water sharing," and because it legitimizes international actions and helps in postconflict scenarios. But for the time being, it is not "a means of imposing world order."


Heinz Joachim Fischer, writing in the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung," discusses a reversion to religion. He says after centuries of painful experience, "old" Europe has banned religion from its laws and constitutions. The separation of church and state is now complete.

So, he asks: "Why do others not follow this lesson? Some believe that Islamic states and people only need a little bit more time. After all, they say, Islam is six centuries younger than Christianity and has not yet undergone its own 'Enlightenment.'" Just as modernity forced churches in Western societies to agree to reforms, Islam, too, will likely realize that the influence of religion must be curtailed in some respects.

Fischer says the Western Enlightenment eliminated the excesses of the church but at the same time eradicated its positive elements. "The impact of the atheist ideologies of the 19th century was far worse than that of religion, which was replaced by the worshipping of the state, a race, an economic class or a nation. The resulting catastrophes have taught us that man is not all reason," he says.

Fischer cites the positive legacy of religion in saying that the Middle Ages left Europeans with "a precious heritage of two golden rules: One holds that worldly and spiritual power have to be separated; the other demands that we unite reason and faith." Fisher says Europe must someday manage "to rediscover a balance between reason and faith."


The leading editorial in French daily "Le Monde" says the alliance of Germany, France, and Moscow in seeming opposition to a UN resolution authorizing force in Iraq is a curious coalition, since the foreign policies of the three have found little congruence in recent times. But what unites this "axis" is not merely the debate over war, the paper says; it is a fundamental question that goes well beyond the best way to disarm Iraq.

"Le Monde" says the diplomatic crisis over Iraq has dramatically illustrated the foreign-policy stance taken by the U.S. administration in the post-11 September world: that the world is either "with" the United States or "against" it. Seeking UN Security Council authorization for the use of force in Iraq is merely a formality, says the paper. The United States decided to go to war a long time ago, and UN approval is a mere diplomatic nicety -- a desirable accompaniment, but not a necessity. As the United States now considers itself to be in a permanent, legitimate state of self-defense, it has also assumed the right to designate its enemies and subsequently make war.

Moscow, Berlin, and Paris dispute the new American diplomatic stance -- "and with good reason," the paper says. War in Iraq may now be virtually inevitable, says "Le Monde," but at least it will not take place with a seal of legitimacy from the United Nations.


In "The Wall Street Journal Europe," Vladimir Socor of the Institute for Strategic and Political Studies says Russia, France, and Germany's common antiwar front on the UN Security Council is designed "to undercut America's global preeminence," specifically to offset U.S. influence in Europe and the Mideast. But beyond that, Socor says the three nations' interests diverge.

Paris is using the Iraq crisis "to disrupt NATO from within, and to pressure Central-Eastern European countries into choosing Franco-German over American leadership." Yet both Paris and Moscow realize the "irrelevance" of the Security Council will be exposed if the U.S. goes to war without UN approval. As both are permanent, veto-holding council members -- which Socor calls "the last vestige of these countries' erstwhile great-power status" -- he says Russia and France may well back down to maintain the status of their vetoes if they conclude the United States will "simply bypass them."

Berlin and Paris have backed themselves into a corner with their firm antiwar stances, says Socor. Russia, by contrast, "retains full strategic and tactical flexibility." Moscow wants to preserve its new amiable relationship with the United States, and is negotiating a lucrative postwar deal in Iraq in exchange for its abstention on the Security Council. However, says Socor, Moscow's maneuvers are "not the behavior of [a U.S.] ally."


Writing in the regional daily "Eurasia View," Camelia Entekhabi-Fard, a journalist specializing in Iranian and Afghan affairs, says low voter turnout on 28 February in local Iranian elections may indicate a "serious setback" for President Mohammad Khatami's reformist agenda. Moreover, the results "have bolstered the influence of conservative political forces" in the ongoing struggle for control of Iran's future.

Entekhabi-Fard says the vote "confirms a shift in momentum back to the conservatives." The victories of conservative candidates was further bolstered by voter apathy, "which underscores broad public discontent with Khatami's administration."

Khatami and Iran's other reformists have battled conservative resistance to change from unelected clerical rulers. But the 10 to 25 percent voter turnout was akin to a vote of no confidence in the Khatami administration, she says.

Reformists have repeatedly done well in elections, says Entekhabi-Fard, but many are frustrated at the slow pace of reforms. "One factor promoting voter cynicism is the recent high-profile imprisonment of dissident journalists." She says some observers say Khatami's "inability to stop the arrests has weakened his image."

"The reform camp appears in disarray," she writes. But Khatami's "supporters in the current parliament appear determined to mount a fresh effort to overcome conservative opposition" by bypassing the conservative Guardian Council and submitting two controversial bills curtailing the hard-liners' power to a national referendum.

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