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Western Press Review: Iran's Missile Test, Afghanistan, And Russia's Campaign Season

Prague, 11 July 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Issues discussed in the Western media today include Iran's successful test of a Shahab-3 missile, the U.S. administration's misguided attempts to alleviate hunger in Africa, the continuing row over comments made by Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, unrest in Afghanistan, and how Russia's campaign season has begun with a bang.


Writing in Belgium's daily "Le Soir," Agnes Gorissen says the regime in Tehran seems either "unaware" or "suicidal" after its 9 July admission that it had conducted a successful test of its Shahab-3 ballistic missile.

Gorissen says this announcement will only lend support to those in Washington who wish to depose the conservative mullahs in Tehran, just as they did Iraq's Saddam Hussein. She cites Western experts as saying a Shahab-3 is capable of launching an unconventional warhead and 800 kilograms for a distance of 1,300 kilometers. This distance is far enough to reach NATO member Turkey, the Indian subcontinent, or even Israel.

The successful test firing of the Shahab-3 adds to other concerns about Iran, says Gorissen. Tehran has been criticized by the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) for not disclosing certain information about its weapons systems. Tehran also refused to accept broader, surprise inspections by the UN. IAEA Director Mohammad el-Baradei is even in Iran this week, trying to get the regime to commit to broader inspections. Gorissen says this is a very strange time to proceed with a missile test.

Iran, she says, has a lot to lose. But why does it take such risks? Tehran may be attempting to make clear that it will not be pressured into compliance. And it has never hidden its ambition to become a regional power, like Israel -- which, incidentally, has nuclear weapons and reports to no one, Gorissen notes.


Hans-Jochen Fischer says: "It never took much for Germans and Italians to get mad at each other -- their characters are simply too far apart. While the Germans lack the Italian lightness of being, the Italians do not share the Germans' seriousness of purpose." And it has been like this "for nearly 2,000 years."

But a new row has sprung up between the two European Union members since Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi suggested a German parliamentarian would be perfectly cast as a Nazi SS officer. German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder demanded an apology and subsequently canceled his vacation plans in Italy this summer. But columnist Fischer says Berlusconi's comment was "not unprovoked."

But what angers German politicians more is Berlusconi's tendency to dismiss leftists within Italy and the rest of Europe as "communists." "As a leading figure of Europe's left, Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder is therefore right to react strongly to Berlusconi's faux pas." Even so, says Fischer, "German criticism of Berlusconi and his center-right government does not aid the relationship between the two countries [or] the European cause."

He writes, "European unification grew from the idea that differences, even opposites, have to be accepted." In a democratic Europe, other countries "have the right to judge [Berlusconi's] behavior, just as much as Italians have the right to elect whomever they trust. The prime minister is accountable only to the parliament in Rome."


An editorial today says the U.S. administration's "failure to help Afghans rehabilitate their war-blasted land" makes the United States seem "either incompetent [at] nation-building abroad or deceitful about its interest in the welfare of peoples Washington has claimed to liberate."

Today, Afghanistan's warlords are extending their regional power bases in many Afghan provinces. "[Neither] the American soldiers hunting Al-Qaeda nor the International Security Assistance Force in the country have provided basic security. As a result, vengeful Taliban forces are staging raids in the south while militias of ethnic Tajik and Uzbek commanders in the north attack each other."

The paper says Washington "has both an ethical responsibility and a deep geopolitical interest in helping Afghans build a flourishing, stable nation. This will mean extending security beyond Kabul and pushing countries that pledged billions of dollars to deliver the funds."

Moreover, the U.S. administration must help Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai undercut the "corrupt and violent provincial warlords." The paper says, "If Afghanistan once again becomes a failed state, it will be America's failure."


An editorial in this Russian daily asks, "What is it about bombings and elections that go together in Moscow?" This "sad tradition" goes back at least to the summer of 1996 when, five days before President Boris Yeltsin was up for re-election, a bomb exploded in a metro car. The Kremlin's political factions all had their own "politically charged" ideas about who was responsible, but eventually the metro bombing was linked to the war in Chechnya.

"[After] two more bombs exploded in Moscow that summer [and] were officially blamed on Chechens, this version became the accepted one for these and all future bombings. Hard evidence was never an issue."

The authorities "have not needed any evidence to convince many Russians that Chechnya is a source of evil," the paper says, "just as many Americans have bought the U.S. government line linking [Iraq's] Saddam Hussein to Al-Qaeda."

Chechen rebels denied any role in the 1996 bombings, as well as in the 1999 Moscow apartment bombings for which they were also blamed. Perhaps it is no coincidence those bombings took place "the next time the country's various political forces were maneuvering ahead of national elections," says the paper. "And now, just as this election campaign gears up, the bombings are back."

But "The Moscow Times" says last week's double bombing at a Moscow rock concert does not "fit the pattern" of Chechen suicide bombings. "In Chechnya, the targets have been Russian troops or Chechens working with Moscow, and the rebel commanders have claimed responsibility. Here the pattern is different," the paper says. "[Or] is it really oh so terribly familiar?"


Agricultural consultant Charles Benbrook says although U.S. President George W. Bush "deserves praise for going to Africa and talking about hunger, his proposals for addressing the problem are likely to make it worse. American farm and trade policies -- particularly the promotion of American-style agricultural biotechnology -- will do little to alleviate hunger."

In a contribution to "The New York Times," Benbrook says the U.S. administration is stepping up efforts to export biotechnology and genetically modified (GM) food to Africa. But Africa's farmers "neither need nor want to produce American-style genetically modified crops."

He says these technologies "don't make economic sense" for Africa. "For cash-poor farmers, the cost of genetically modified seed would be prohibitive. Moreover, genetically modified crops need near-perfect growing conditions." In areas prone to drought like Africa, GM crops would need to rely on irrigation systems. Many in Africa "recognize these drawbacks and that's why American efforts to promote genetically modified crops have backfired."

Africa's farmers "face a multitude of challenges," Benbrook says. "Drought is a recurrent problem. Soils are often worn out." And land-tenure systems, civil strife, AIDS, and a reluctance to channel financial assistance to the women that do most of the work on many farms "are social issues that undermine farm productivity."

Benbrook says Americans "should know that their money and expertise might be better directed doing the things that Africans themselves might actually find useful."


Columnist Nicholas Kristof considers the question of whether the idea of race really means anything scientifically significant. Kristof, who is Caucasian, had his own DNA examined at Oxford University and found that he is descended from a matriarch who lived in Africa, perhaps near modern-day Ethiopia or Kenya, 70,000 years ago. Well, "what do you know!" he says. "Turns out I'm African-American."

He quotes Oxford geneticist Bryan Sykes as saying: "There's no genetic basis for any kind of rigid ethnic or racial classification at all. [Humans] are very closely related." The respected "New England Journal of Medicine" has also said that race "is biologically meaningless."

But Kristof says: "There are genuine differences among population groups. Jews are more likely to carry mutations for Tay-Sachs, Africans for sickle-cell anemia. It's hard to argue that ethnicity is an empty concept when one gene mutation for an iron-storage disease, hemochromatosis, affects fewer than 1 percent of Armenians but 8 percent of Norwegians."

DNA "does tend to differ, very slightly, with race," Kristof says. And these distinctions can be valuable categorizations in the field of medicine. Advances in genetics increasingly indicate "that racial and ethnic distinctions are real -- but often fuzzy and greatly exaggerated," he says. "Genetics will increasingly show that most humans are mongrels, and it will make a mockery of racism."

(Anyone can have their DNA examined to trace their ancestors' paths around the world. More information is available at and


In a combined contribution to the British "Financial Times," Timothy Garton Ash of the Oxford University-based European Studies Center, Michael Mertes of Germany's Dimap-Consult think tank, and Dominique Moisi of the French Institute of International Relations say, "Germany, Britain and France are Europe's indispensable three."

The close cooperation of this triad "is not a sufficient condition for Europe to have a serious foreign and security policy, but it is a necessary one. As we saw over Iraq, if these three are divided, all Europe will be divided." And yet today, "the European Union faces a British problem, a French problem and a German problem."

The EU's British problem is that, "even after 30 years of membership, the British still cannot make up their minds whether they really want to be full participants in the European adventure."

The French problem has two aspects, say the authors. First, French "political and administrative elites tend to think naturally that what is bad for the U.S. is good for France. Moreover, "They tend to transfer their sense of frustration with Washington to their relations with their smaller European partners," as seen during the contention over war with Iraq. The authors say that "no credible European ambition can be achieved in opposition to the U.S."

As for Germany, the question is whether it will "continue to bring up the economic rear in the EU -- or will it succeed [in] pursuing new reformist goals as one of Europe's driving forces?"

In short, Ash, Mertes, and Moisi say, "the British should be more European, the French should be more modest, and the Germans should be bolder."