Prague, 10 March 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Most items in the Western press today and over the weekend discuss a possible U.S.-led military action against Iraq in light of chief weapons inspectors Hans Blix and Muhammad el-Baradei's report to the United Nations last week (7 March). Several columnists discuss the Iraq debate in terms of a perceived shift in U.S. foreign policy, as the U.S. administration appears to alienate former allies in its apparent preference for a military solution. We also take a look at Serbia and Montenegro's new president, Svetozar Marovic, and new Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen), who is scheduled to be confirmed today.
THE NEW YORK TIMES:
A "New York Times" editorial says chief weapons inspectors Hans Blix and Muhammad el-Baradei's report to the United Nations on 7 March "undercut Washington's already weak chances of winning Security Council endorsement for a new war resolution on Iraq." The 17 March deadline for a resolution being proposed by the United States and Britain is unlikely to be long enough and both countries should offer a "more meaningful" timetable, the paper says.
"The main message" from the report was that Iraq's cooperation "has increased in recent days and weeks, and that Iraq has begun to move beyond access and procedural questions to the actual destruction of prohibited weapons," "The New York Times" writes. Regarding the "crucial" issue of Iraq's nuclear program, chief inspector el-Baradei stated he found no evidence that Baghdad had restarted the nuclear weapons program it was forced to abandon a decade ago.
Baghdad is "still a very long way from living up to the Security Council's demand for it to give up its unconventional weapons," the editorial says. But the "most powerful lever for securing full Iraqi cooperation would be a reunited Security Council."
The U.S. and Britain must consider the proposed 17 March deadline "as an initial negotiating position," the paper says. But France and other nations on the Security Council opposed to military action must "offer something more constructive than a veto threat," as they "have yet to come up with an alternative proposal."
An editorial in Britain's "Independent" calls chief UN weapons inspector Hans Blix's presentation to the UN Security Council "fair and balanced." While Blix said Baghdad had not offered "immediate compliance," he noted that cooperation had been improving. The paper says, "Blix's characterization of Saddam Hussein's compliance with the will of the UN as partial but accelerating is the most persuasive argument against the rush to war."
The common U.S.-British position repeatedly emphasizes that UN Resolution 1441 offered a "final" chance for Baghdad's "full and immediate" compliance. Baghdad's hesitation, they say, justifies military action to ensure the regime's disarmament. But the paper says Resolution 1441 "was not an automatic trigger for military action."
The resolution required inspectors to report any failure to comply to the Security Council, in which case it would reconvene to discuss a solution. The paper points out, "There would be no point in doing so if everyone accepted that military action was already justified."
The paper says Resolution 1441 signifies it is the Security Council's responsibility to judge "the extent of Iraqi compliance and decide what to do next." And it says the council ought to decide that inspections and the threat of military force "are working, and that Mr. Blix should be given the months he requires to oversee complete disarmament."
Berhard Kueppers, writing in the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung," looks at the personality of Serbia and Montenegro's new president, Svetozar Marovic, elected on 7 March by a narrow majority in the new state's parliament.
In an open ballot, Marovic, a deputy leader of Montenegro's ruling Democratic Party of Socialists, won 65 votes in a 135-seat parliament composed of 91 members from Serbia and 35 from Montenegro.
The commentary describes the new president as one "who is loath to express himself unequivocally; he likes best to take a middle road. " Kueppers says this trait might qualify Marovic as "the best choice to lead the partnership of Serbia and Montenegro." As a moderate, Marovic is the type of man needed at the nation's helm today.
Kueppers goes on to give a brief history of Marovic. Born on 31 March 1955, in Kotor, he studied law in Podgorica and entered politics by leading the youth movement in that part of the republic. Marovic later was elected mayor of Budva. Subsequently, he rose to the post of Montenegro's parliamentary chairman.
Marovic is reluctant to give the existence of Serbia and Montenegro a mere three-year test period. He makes clear the union is interested in becoming a part of the EU, whether jointly as Serbia and Montenegro or as two independent states.
THE NEW YORK TIMES:
In a "New York Times" piece reprinted by the "International Herald Tribune," Joel Brinkley says for all the international attention devoted to chief weapons inspector Hans Blix's report at the UN Security Council on 7 March, the report itself "was largely irrelevant." Various foreign ministers and UN ambassadors "listened politely as [Blix] spoke, but many of them stole glances at the speeches they would deliver when he finished, statements that were written before they arrived and changed little if at all by anything Blix had to say."
Brinkley says "the major players," the United States, Britain, Germany, France, Russia, and China -- had made up their minds "long ago." After Blix's report, the German foreign minister reiterated Germany and France's "long-held position" that peaceful means to disarm Iraq had not been exhausted. U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell then repeated the U.S.-British position that Iraq is not sufficiently complying with the UN's disarmament demands.
But U.S. President George W. Bush's remarks at a 6 March news conference made clear the United States will follow its own course regardless of what the weapons inspectors find or the Security Council decides. Brinkley says, "The debate now is over just one question: Whether the United States and its allies should go to war in the next few days or weeks. That is a question the weapons inspectors are unequipped to answer."
Writing in "The Washington Post," Jackson Diehl looks at why the Turkish parliament voted to deny U.S. troops the use of Turkish bases in the event of war with Iraq. He cites one Turkish official as suggesting it was Washington's insistence on a quick decision that ultimately undermined its war plans.
"Maybe the pressure, and the air of imperious impatience that it conveyed to Ankara, was necessary to meet the Bush administration's tight calendar for action on Iraq," Diehl suggests. But he says this development underscores "why the United States has fared so poorly in the global debate over Iraq." Diehl describes Turkey as a country "that depends heavily on the United States for its security [and] for its economic well-being."
Mexico and Chile, both nonpermanent members of the Security Council, are close friends of the United States as well. But none of these countries is willing to commit to vote in Washington's favor on the council. "That is the real measure of the administration's diplomatic failure: not that countries that have always opposed American primacy continue to do so, but that nations that depend on the United States for security and global leadership have been driven to the opposition, or the sidelines."
Diehl says the last two years "of perceived slights, high-handed treatment or simple neglect by Washington didn't create this crisis -- but they have compounded its cost."
Some hope for moderation and peace in the Middle East is the subject of a commentary by Inge Guenther, writing today in the "Frankfurter Rundschau." She reviews the response to the appointment and confirmation of the "moderate" Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen), by the Palestinian Legislative Council today as new prime minister of Palestinian National Authority (PNA).
Guenther says Abbas is considered a "dove," which means Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon can no longer exploit the argument that "he is for peace, but unfortunately cannot find a partner to negotiate with in the Palestinian camp."
Abbas has made it clear that he refuses to be "an honorary prime minister, but actually wants to engage in political business." Guenther says Palestinian leader Yassir Arafat needs Abbas for his own political survival. Due to international pressure, Arafat cannot afford to reject him.
On the other hand, Abbas will have little influence as premier in the near future, Guenther says, considering the possibility of war in the Gulf and the escalating attacks on Israel by the Hamas terrorist organization. She says if Abbas's rational voice is not to be drowned out by perpetual violence, then it is up to Israel to also take a step toward rapprochement. She concludes: "Now is the time for a serious attempt to call for a cease-fire."
THE NEW YORK TIMES:
In "The New York Times," 2002 Nobel Peace Prize winner and former U.S. President Jimmy Carter says a "substantially unilateral attack on Iraq" does not meet "the principles of a just war." For a war to be considered just, Carter says several criteria must be met.
First, war must be waged only as a last resort, after all options have been exhausted. In the case of Iraq, he says, "clear alternatives to war exist." Military action must also discriminate between combatants and civilians and, moreover, must be proportional to the injury that was suffered by the nation declaring war.
The war-waging nation must also have the "legitimate authority sanctioned by the society they profess to represent." Thus, Carter says, the unanimously passed Resolution 1441 can be enforced, but the United States' professed goals of regime change and the occupation of Iraq "do not have international authority." Finally, Carter says the eventual peace must be a "clear improvement" over what preceded the war.
He says the "increasingly unilateral and domineering policies" of the U.S. administration have brought international trust in the United States "to its lowest level in memory." He says, "American stature will surely decline further," if war is launched, "in clear defiance of the United Nations." But to use the threat of military power to force Iraq's compliance with UN resolutions would enhance the status of the United States "as a champion of peace and justice."
A "Le Monde" editorial today ironically remarks that U.S. President George W. Bush is much more concerned with Iraq than he is with the Israel-Palestinian conflict. The paper says perhaps this is why he considers the reputation of the United Nations to be resting on its ability to enforce its resolutions on Iraq but not on the "kilos' worth" of resolutions it has passed on both parties in the Mideast conflict.
Perhaps the credibility of the UN does rest on the current diplomatic battle over Iraq, "Le Monde" says. It is indeed plausible that one of the issues at stake in the crisis is the ability of the United Nations to regulate the conflicts of the 21st century. But for the U.S. president, the United Nations must authorize war in order to prove its seriousness. This conclusion might become inevitable if Iraq does not disarm, says the paper; but thus far, such a verdict is not evident. Chief weapons inspectors Hans Blix and Muhammad el-Baradei have said Baghdad is cooperating more and more actively, and that there is no proof Iraq has restarted its decade-old nuclear program. Yet both complained that U.S. and British sources had furnished them with misleading information.
"Le Monde" says if war is sanctioned on this foundation, the authority and credibility of the UN will indeed have been effectively sabotaged.
(RFE/RL's Dora Slaba contributed to this report.)