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Western Press Review: Blair 'Rebuffed,' New Palestinian Premier, And A Test For Azerbaijan's Press

Prague, 30 April 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Western media commentary and analysis today takes a look at the meeting between British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Russia's President Vladimir Putin near Moscow yesterday, maximizing oil revenues for Iraq, the appointment of Mahmoud Abbas as the new Palestinian prime minister, and yesterday's deadly anti-American demonstrations in Iraq.

We also take a look at the continued wrangling over the United Nations, Azerbaijan's media struggles, and Iran's influence over postwar events in Iraq.


During a visit yesterday to Russian President Vladimir Putin's private dacha, or cottage, at Novo-Ogorevo near Moscow, British Prime Minister Tony Blair sought to convince the Russian leader to support the lifting of UN sanctions on Iraq. But Blair received what some observers are calling a "public rebuff" from Putin, who demanded that lingering questions over Iraq's weapons of mass destruction and other issues be answered first.

Britain's "The Daily Telegraph" says, "During the [prewar] wrangling at the UN, there was much talk of acting according to international law." But under those legal arguments "lay the rawer flexing of national power. Washington, grievously wounded by September 11, wanted to strike back against its enemies."

On the other side of the negotiating table, "China, France and Russia, antagonistic to American hegemony, sought to contain it through the Security Council, of which they are all veto-wielding permanent members." Since that failure, they have attempted to regain influence. "That was the reason for Mr. Blair's ignominious diplomatic setback yesterday."

Putin fears lifting sanctions on Iraq "will sideline the UN further. He therefore wants to make it contingent [on] UN inspectors' verifying that Iraq is free of weapons of mass destruction." But Anglo-American forces have no intention of renewing UN weapons inspections or allowing the UN anything more than a humanitarian role.

The Security Council proved "ineffective as a forum for collective security," the paper says. And Blair, the "convinced multilateralist," is now being undermined "by the naked [exercise] of national power, whether American, French or Russian."


Writing in the European edition of "The Wall Street Journal," Susan Lee says the proper management of Iraq's oil resources can fuel everything from Iraqi democracy and a market economy to the grittier aspects, "like paying down Iraq's oil debt and rebuilding its infrastructure." It is best to think of this project in two parts, she says: maximizing oil revenue and deciding who receives that revenue.

Privatizing the oil resources is the best way maximize profits, says Lee. She advocates dividing oil wells into the "smallest manageable tracts" and selling them at an open auction involving as many bidders as possible. Such a division would maximize competition and the existence of many small plots "would give local [Iraqi] entrepreneurial talent an opportunity to bid."

The answer to the question of who should receive the resulting revenue is simple, she says. "Since the oil belongs to the Iraqi people, they -- and not the government -- should be the direct beneficiaries."

Lee says the best plan for Iraq's oil development would ensure the market was transparent and that participation was "as broad as possible to include every Iraqi citizen" and that proceeds from the sale of property "go directly to citizen-owners." Moreover, transaction costs should be kept low and prices should be the most efficient possible, as well as "readily available so citizens can make informed decisions."


A editorial in Germany's "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" comments on anti-American demonstrations in the town of Fallajuh, about 50 kilometers west of Baghdad, during which U.S. troops opened fire on protesters. Yesterday's shooting left 13 dead and at least 45 people wounded. Disputes are now ongoing as to who fired first.

The Americans claim they acted in self-defense to shots fired from the crowd, which the paper says may or may not be true but will certainly be difficult to prove. The commentary says it is "an insult when U.S. soldiers claim the right of self-defense when they flagrantly and randomly shot at a crowd of people and, according to eyewitnesses, there were children among the victims."

Granted, U.S. troops are exposed to enormous pressure, says the commentary. They were not greeted with flowers as they expected but were instead confronted with threats from suicide bombers. There is every reason for them to be on their guard, but the paper says they are also "trigger happy."

This incident is just one more in a number of such killings, says the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung." It says any power that seeks to establish order in this manner is only generating "a vicious circle of hostility."


Writing in "Eurasia View," Baku-based analyst Fariz Ismailzade says the extensive media coverage of Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliev's apparent health problems "is posing a challenge for authorities, who prefer to control the flow of information about the ailing president." Aliyev publicly collapsed on 21 April, prompting widespread speculation and media coverage.

Ismailzade says "Azerbaijan's handling of Aliev's illness may end up marking an important point in the country's civil society development, especially in the mass media sphere, [as] the struggle over information continues to play out between the government and opposition media outlets."

Official sources continue to insist that Aliyev will soon make a full recovery. Yet opposition media outlets, including the "Huriyyat" and "Yeni Musavat" dailies, "have portrayed a starkly different picture concerning Aliev's health status." Ismailzade says they are "seemingly eager" to push the boundaries of media freedom, "while at the same time possibly undermining the Aliyev administration."

Officials "and pro-government journalists have accused some opposition media of irresponsible behavior, saying the intensive coverage of Aliyev's health could undermine national security."

In the past, opposition journalists "have been subjected to various forms of harassment, including physical attacks, verbal abuse and defamation lawsuits." Ismailzade remarks that the Aliyev health issue is also "posing an early test for the country's newly created Media Council," a body including representatives from the government, opposition publications and public advocacy groups that was designed to alleviate the long-standing tension between the government and mass media outlets.


In a contribution to the "Chicago Tribune," Ali Abunimah of discusses the chances for peace in the Middle East, now that Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) has been appointed Palestinian prime minister at the behest of the U.S. administration.

Washington made Abbas's confirmation a condition for the release of the "road map" peace initiative. Abunimah says Abbas "gained a measure of credibility in Western eyes because he is perceived as a reformer willing to crack down" on Palestinian terrorist groups. But among Palestinians, "he is viewed with much less enthusiasm. Palestinians would prefer to elect their leaders democratically rather than have them appointed." Abbas "is seen by many Palestinians as a candidate imposed from the outside."

Abunimah points out that Palestinians "[have] been disgusted by mismanagement and corruption within the Palestinian Authority since long before the international community" began calling for it to reform. And "many view Abbas as part of that problem."

The Israeli administration, for its part, "has fallen back on demanding that Abbas carry out a vigorous campaign against groups like Hamas and Islamic Jihad prior to any peace negotiations and Israeli steps." But Abunimah says: "Such an approach guarantees failure. [For] any chance of success, the process must be simultaneous. At the same time Palestinians are expected to act to curb attacks on Israelis, Israel must stop expansion of Jewish-only settlements [and] lift measures punishing civilians."

He says if Abbas "is seen by Palestinians merely as a policeman acting on Israel's behalf, [he] will lose all legitimacy."


An editorial in "The New York Times" says, "The tragedy of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has always been that the moment a glimmer of hope for coexistence appears, the forces of rejection and violence come calling."

Early today, "just as a new Palestinian leadership seemed to be clearing the way for a new era, a powerful bomb went off at a seaside cafe in Tel Aviv." The suicide-bomb attack killed three people and wounded at least 40 others. But "The New York Times" says this latest attack "must not be allowed to claim the new chance for peace as well."

The paper says a "milestone" was passed yesterday with the appointment of reformist Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas and "a new, reform-minded cabinet." For the first time since "the onset of the 2000 Palestinian intifada, it [is] possible to begin imagining a way out of the cycle of death and retribution."

Yet it was "hardly a coincidence that the explosion came just after the new Palestinian prime minister delivered an inaugural speech decrying terrorism. The extremists behind the Tel Aviv attack were undoubtedly aiming their violence at their own leadership as well as the Israelis. They cannot be allowed to succeed," says the paper.

"There will be enormous obstacles to peace. All those involved -- Israelis, Palestinians, Americans and Europeans -- must be prepared to show determination, courage and energy. The terrible attack yesterday will be only the first test."


Writing in France's daily "Liberation," Jean-Luc Allouche says that, contrary to the expectation of many pessimists, the Palestinian legislature did not waste any time confirming Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) yesterday as the new prime minister.

With 51 votes for, 18 against and three abstentions, Abbas was confirmed without the endless debates and harangues many predicted. In his speech before the Palestinian legislative council, Abbas addressed both the internal and external problems the Palestinian Authority faces.

According to the new prime minister, the need for the reform of the Palestinian Authority and the challenge of ending terrorism will be his priorities.

Abbas asked for the confidence of the Palestinian Assembly, and detailed a plan for undermining the influence of radical Palestinian groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad. He reiterated his wish for "a durable peace" to be found through "negotiations," and said that as the Palestinians do not discount the suffering of the Jews throughout history, he hopes Israel will, in return, not overlook the suffering of the Palestinians.

The new prime minister went on to call for Palestinian self-determination and the establishment of an independent Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital, including all territories occupied by Israel since 1967 and in accordance with international law.

Israeli and U.S. officials welcomed Abbas's speech as a step in the right direction, while reserving comment on any final status for Palestine. Allouche says Israel and other observers will, in the end, judge Abbas on his acts, not his words.


According to Rudolph Chimelli in the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung," Iran is pursuing two main aims in supporting the Shi'ite influence in postwar Iraq, even while it refrains from direct involvement.

Teheran has no desire to provoke any hostility from the U.S.; but on the other hand, it would like to see a regime in Baghdad that is friendly toward Teheran and unwilling to accept a permanent U.S. presence.

It is already evident, says Chimelli, that "these aims do not harmonize." Islam in Iraq tends more toward the political than the religious, he says. Moreover, should Shia Islam triumph in Iraq, this would not be due to Iran's involvement, its propaganda or its financial support, but would be "an independent Iraqi development."

Likewise, America's problems in the country have little to do with Iran's involvement. Chimelli says, "The problems the U.S. has in Iraq are, to a certain degree, a useful distraction from Iran's point of view. But they must not become so great as to warrant Washington venting its anger on Iran."

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