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Western Press Review: The 'Road Map' To Middle East Peace And Finding A Baghdad-Al-Qaeda Link

Prague, 28 April 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Topics under discussion in the Western media today and over the weekend include the discovery by journalists in Baghdad of documents reportedly linking Saddam Hussein's regime to Osama bin Laden's terrorist network; the importance of the World Health Organization in containing worldwide health threats; and the anticipated "road map" to Middle East peace, which the U.S. administration is expected to unveil this week.


Journalists from Britain's "The Daily Telegraph" say they have unearthed documents showing a link between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden's terrorist network.

In an editorial, the paper says the "Sunday Telegraph's" (27 April) disclosure "[shows] beyond a reasonable doubt" that the Ba'ath Party regime in Baghdad "was taking active measures in 1998 to develop a strong relationship both with Al-Qaeda as an organization and bin Laden personally." Their common goal "appears to have been [to] bring down America's regional ally, Saudi Arabia," but they likely discussed other issues as well. However, the discovery of this link "does not [amount] to evidence that Saddam was directly involved in the destruction of the World Trade Center," says the paper.

"The Sunday Telegraph" went on to discuss allegations that this and other discoveries are being "spoon-fed" to the press by British and U.S. intelligence services to justify the war. The paper says that, on the contrary, journalists in Iraq have been given access in something like a "free-for-all," and attributes their findings to "a combination of journalistic initiative and serendipity." One would expect that Anglo-American forces would want to analyze the documents themselves first, the paper says, calling it an "organizational failure" not to do so.

The lingering question over links between Baghdad and bin Laden "has now been emphatically answered," says the paper. "But it should be a source of grave embarrassment to the British and American governments that it has taken a newspaper, trawling through the files in a burnt-out building, to finish the job."


Thomas Friedman of "The New York Times" takes a look at worldwide attitudes following the toppling of Saddam Hussein's regime in Baghdad. He says France and Russia, who opposed the military campaign, "refuse to acknowledge that any good was done in Iraq because if America's war ends justify its unilateral means, their power will be further diminished."

As for the Arab world, many leaders also refuse "to acknowledge any good from this war, because many Arab regimes have features in common with Saddam's, and if getting rid of Saddam was good, so would be getting rid of them. Arab intellectuals and the Arab League won't acknowledge any good having been done in Iraq by America, because it only reminds them that they should have taken care of this problem themselves -- and didn't."

Friedman concludes that the United States may have successfully toppled Saddam Hussein, but its real job "is to build a regime in Iraq that won't produce any more battered human skulls. That will be a huge task, which will need many helpers."

The challenge for the Arabs, France, and Russia is to get involved and help build Iraq's future. And the challenge for U.S. President George W. Bush is not to misguidedly "take the good thing he has done and cast it in an ideological framework that will make people resent it -- at home and abroad."


On 27 April, Britain's "The Observer" says the World Health Organization (WHO) is a vital international organ to stem the spread of infectious diseases in an era of unprecedented worldwide migration. In "an era of globalization and mass movement of people, we need effective multilateral surveillance of global public health," the "Observer" says.

The WHO is now more important than ever, and its rulings "must be respected" by all nations. It is not a matter of choice "which areas of global concern and which countries should be subject to multilateral control; the same rules must hold throughout."

The Chinese government "is rightly being criticized because its endemic secrecy led to a wholly inadequate response to SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) that is now threatening not just the health of the Chinese but many in Asia and the world beyond. If the WHO had stronger powers, it would have been able to intervene in China more effectively and the threat of epidemic would have been reduced. The WHO will certainly need such powers in the future," the paper says.

Some have criticized the WHO for being unwieldy and bureaucratic, even "meddlesome" and "an infringer of state sovereignty." But "The Observer" says all nations must accept WHO pronouncements, even when they are controversial, "in the interests of the greater good."


Czech shadow Foreign Minister Jan Zahradil, writing in today's "Die Welt," advocates "a realistic and sober attitude" toward the European Union and discusses some of the doubts his opposition Civic Democratic Party harbors regarding EU membership.

In considering the history of Europe and the Czech Republic, in particular, the author says it would be a mistake to regard the EU as a final step in Europe's development.

"We should learn to live with both integration as well as disintegration, bearing in mind the diverse interests [of members]. European political and economic traditions should not be forced to conform artificially to a uniform image."

Zahradil says the future of the community should no longer be the decision of a small group of insiders. In his view, new members must also "be given a chance to express their opinions."

He says it is a fundamental mistake to blindly believe in the presumed union of European interests. Zahradil thinks the whole issue of integration must not be imposed from above but should come "from below, from nations and their citizens, not vice versa."

The attempts to form a supranational European federation are based on theories that ignore national roots, he says. And experience thus far shows that the vague notion of "European interests" is synonymous with the interests of the French-German axis and European institutions in Brussels, enthusiastically supported by the elite, he says.


Writing in Britain's "Financial Times," Edwin Truman of the Institute for International Economics says the new government in Baghdad should not be required to pay Iraq's current outstanding external debt in full. However, it would be "equally misguided," he says, to write off the debt entirely.

U.S. calls for Iraq's creditor governments to forgive all Iraqi debt are "rash," says Truman. "Established multilateral mechanisms are available to address this complex subject at the appropriate time." Moreover, it is "impossible to make considered judgments about Iraq's ability to pay at this point because of the paucity of information about its economy."

The Paris Club of Iraq's government creditors should address the outstanding debt once an International Monetary Fund-backed economic program is instituted. These deliberations will have to include creditors "in Eastern Europe, Russia, and especially the Middle East, which hold about 75 percent of Iraq's debt. Drawing these countries into multilateral discussions is one channel for building political, financial, and economic stability in the region," says Truman. The United States is owed relatively little by Iraq, so its calls for debt forgiveness involve "other people's money."

"Iraq's external obligations will indeed have to be reduced in line with its ability to pay -- but that ability should be established through multilateral mechanisms on the basis of established criteria." Truman says these established mechanisms "are more than sufficient to lighten Iraq's debt burden and ease its passage to economic and political recovery."


In a contribution to the "Los Angeles Times," Jo-Ann Mort of Americans for Peace Now says if there is to be any hope of creating democratic societies in the Middle East, "we have to stand up against the erosion of basic rights in Israel, the only democracy" in the region.

She says since Israel captured the occupied territories in 1967, a "messianic religious fundamentalism" has taken hold of Israel's nationalist camp, while the growth of the right wing among the settlers has "frayed Israeli democracy." Mort calls this "a great danger to Israel and to the Jewish people." A minority of settlers "are as fanatical in their religious zeal as the worst Islamic fundamentalist," she says. "They have no belief in the modern state or rule of law but expect that redemption will come from God. This minority keeps Israel in a state of siege."

"This is not the way to maintain a democratic, modern state," she says. "Israel's occupation -- and U.S. indulgence of it -- eats away at the basic fabric of democracy in the region." U.S. officials and members of Congress "who argue in support of current Israeli policies, while also arguing that the war in Iraq was waged for democracy, are being intellectually dishonest."

Mort writes, "What is amazing about Israelis is that even through the obscene suicide bombings" that target civilians, "more than 50 percent of Israelis have consistently supported a two-state solution and an end to most of the settlements." She says, "These are numbers U.S. politicians should look to for the courage to move forward in strengthening democracy in the Mideast."


In a contribution to "The Wall Street Journal Europe," former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak says Israel's prime minister, Ariel Sharon, "will have to impose -- already long overdue -- the rule of law over the settlers, dismantle illegal outposts, and find ways to ease daily life for the Palestinians."

But Barak says: "Israel should not be expected to make concessions before it is evident that [Palestinian leader Yasser] Arafat is being fully and irreversibly deprived of executive authority. There will be no peace as long as he retains any real power." Barak says, "The readiness to launch a coherent strike against Hamas and Islamic Jihad, and putting an eventual end to terror attacks against Israelis, should become the legitimacy test for the new Palestinian government."

Barak expresses some hope that the new Palestinian leadership will have more success. Newly appointed Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, also known as Abu Mazen, and Internal Security Minister Mohammad Dahlan "are serious people," Barak says. "[Both] men have questioned the wisdom of suicide bombings and the continued Intifada. They should be given a fair chance to see the road map through and deserve American backing and Israeli gestures of goodwill."

But Abbas and Dahlan "should be judged by their readiness to act forcefully -- even if faced with violent resistance -- to put an end to acts of terror." If they "rise to the challenge," Barak says, the world "could see a turning point toward a lasting peace."


Dietrich Alexander of "Die Welt" also discusses the latest developments in the Palestinian political process. Prime Minister Abu Mazen and his cabinet will officially take office tomorrow. Dietrich says there have been many fateful days in the history of the Middle East conflict. But the future once again offers "something between hope and resignation."

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon sees the change in Palestinian government as a victory. His archenemy, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, has been marginalized. "But this," says Alexander, "does not exonerate Sharon from his own duty to contribute to the anticipated new beginning." Sharon now says he is prepared to negotiate with Mazen, which Alexander says is progress.

The United States in particular is anxious to achieve some success in this area. Alexander says Sharon must make a new beginning by agreeing to evacuate Jewish settlements in the occupied territory of the Gaza Strip. As a gesture of goodwill, Sharon has promised to begin with the small settlements.

Following these gestures, next week will bring what could be a fateful day for the Middle East, as the United States and its so-called called "Quartet" partners -- the United Nations, the European Union, and Russia -- will present a "road map" for peace in the Middle East. Under this plan, the Palestinians would get statehood by 2005 in exchange for reining in the militias. In exchange, Israel would finally get security.

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