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Western Press Review: Beijing Negotiations, The Bombay Bombing, And Security For Humanitarian Work In Iraq

Prague, 26 August 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Much media attention today is focused on multilateral talks scheduled for tomorrow in Beijing to address North Korea's nuclear program. The twin taxi-cab bombings yesterday in Bombay are also discussed, in light of their potential to destabilize relations on the subcontinent. We also continue today to monitor coverage of events in Iraq and the Middle East.


An editorial in the "Los Angeles Times" says expectations "should stay low" when officials from North Korea, the United States, China, Japan, South Korea, and Russia meet in Beijing tomorrow to discuss Pyongyang's nuclear program. The paper says "there's no reason to believe that [Pyongyang] would refrain from selling nuclear weapons to the highest bidder, be it another country or a terrorist. That underscores the urgency of these talks."

The goal of tomorrow's negotiations should be "an initial freeze on Pyongyang's nuclear programs and their eventual scrapping. To get there, the five nations probably will have to offer major economic aid and guarantees not to attack the North." Diplomacy "requires patience," says the paper, "even with the nuclear clock ticking loudly."

The Los Angeles daily says the best way to avoid the possible use of force to disarm Pyongyang is to make it understand "that its survival lies not in belligerence and nuclear arms but in giving them up in exchange for neighborly cooperation and economic aid."


Writing in the "International Herald Tribune," Ralph Cossa of the Center for Strategic and International Studies' Pacific Forum discusses some of the seemingly intractable challenges that must be faced at tomorrow's talks in Beijing. Pyongyang sees Washington's demand that it "verifiably" and "irreversibly" dismantle its nuclear programs to be asking nothing short of complete surrender. Pyongyang in turn insists the United States enter into a legally binding nonaggression pact, as well as reestablish diplomatic relations and refrain from impeding North Korea's economic ties with other nations. Washington has utterly refused any bilateral nonaggression agreement, although Cossa says the U.S. administration hints "that multilateral security assurances may be provided" -- which Pyongyang insists would be "meaningless."

Cossa remarks: "Given the unyielding positions of the two main protagonists, there seems little hope for a positive outcome" to the talks. But there is cause for long-term optimism, he says. There are already several points on which all six parties to the negotiations agree. First and foremost is that a nuclear Korean peninsula "serves no one's interests." Pyongyang realizes that any major confrontation, whether nuclear or conventional, would mean "the destruction of the North Korean state." Outright military conflict is something Washington also seeks to avoid, Cossa says, "given its preoccupation with events elsewhere." The "uncertainty and costs" involved in bringing "regime change" to North Korea remain higher than the expected benefits, he says.

Thus, despite Washington's repeated denouncements of President Kim Jong Il, all parties to the negotiations "seem prepared to live with an outcome that leaves the current North Korean regime in place."


An editorial in "The Times" of London says the unknown attackers who set off two car bombs in Bombay yesterday have garnered a "callous and terrifying achievement." The bombs left at least 46 people dead and injured over 100 more. But the paper says "[the] real danger of the attack [lies] in its disruptive potential for the more than a billion people living in the Indian subcontinent." India remains divided by internal Hindu-Muslim rivalries, as well as trapped in a hostile relationship with Pakistan over the disputed Kashmir territory and the suspected flow of terrorists across the two countries' border. The paper says "Sinister precedents from this troubled past will spring to every mind now. That could bode ill both for communal peace in India" and for the tense relationship between the two nuclear-armed neighbors.

For the investigation following the attack "to leap too quickly" to the conclusion that Pakistan was somehow involved "would cause untold harm," the paper says. "After almost a year on the brink of war, the two countries [have] found grassroots pressure for peace nudging them closer in recent months. Embassies have reopened. Buses are running across the border. These are small advances, but the hope they bring should not be extinguished."

The government in New Delhi has "often shown unexpected restraint in its dealings with its neighbor. It will win a victory against terrorism now by displaying all the moderation it can muster."


Today's "International Herald Tribune" publishes an item by former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Richard Holbrooke, in which he discusses providing security for the UN mission in Iraq.

"U.S. forces, already stretched too thin, are not going to provide security for UN staff," he says. Moreover, the United Nations "doesn't want the image of American troops surrounding its compound and personnel," preferring instead to clearly delineate its international, non-combat role.

Holbrooke says the UN Security Council should "pass a resolution authorizing a multinational force -- not an ineffective UN blue helmet peacekeeping operation -- [with] the specific and narrowly focused assignment of protecting UN personnel and installations." He says the best country to lead this force might be Norway, due to its "long-standing ties to the U.S. military" and its "fervent" support for the UN and its secretary-general, Kofi Annan.

While the U.S. administration is concerned about maintaining "unity of command" over forces in Iraq if more international troops are present, Holbrooke says the two missions can fall under the authority of the U.S. commander, who will then have "two chains of command -- the UN self-protection force and the U.S. coalition force." The details "could be worked out in many different ways," he says. But the United States "is going to need to reach an agreement with other nations on the Security Council. Otherwise the situation for UN operations in Iraq will be untenable -- and the United States, above all, needs a UN presence in Iraq."


Thorsten Schmitz in the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" comments on the latest developments in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and says Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat "refuses to be sidelined." All attempts by the Israelis and the United States to marginalize Arafat have been to no avail, he says.

"The summer of 2003 is coming to an end and Arafat is celebrating a comeback," writes Schmitz. The authors of the "road map" did succeed in nominating Mahmoud Abbas as the new Palestinian prime minister, but the hope that this would eliminate Arafat has failed. Arafat's isolation has roused Palestinian terror organizations "to maximalize their attacks and take no notice of Abbas's security chief, Mohammad Dahlan."

Over the weekend, Arafat made a surprise move by announcing the appointment of a new minister of the interior, Nasser Yousef, a longtime friend of his. If Abbas does not respond to this development by resigning, then Jusuf would be in charge of security and -- as Arafat's faithful servant -- will have no interest in having the U.S. or Israel end his war, Schmitz predicts.


In a contribution to "The New York Times," author Michelle Cullen says the "harsh reality is that the risks of aid work often exceed its achievements." Humanitarian workers "will always be outnumbered by the problems that surround them," she says. And today, aid groups and their workers "struggle against overwhelming odds" and are increasingly threatened with violence. Cullen says the attack last week on the UN mission in Baghdad "has made it clear that the humanitarian community is a target. Humanitarian groups must therefore reconsider how they conduct their work and what they are willing to sacrifice for it."

Cullen says it is "no longer feasible," for example, for the United Nations "to forgo extensive security measures in order to uphold its image of neutrality. For Iraq and future humanitarian interventions, the United Nations needs to strike a new balance between neutrality and security."

Aid organizations today "have two choices," she says. They can "operate from a safe distance," as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund are doing in Iraq -- both are now conducting Iraqi operations from neighboring Jordan. Or else, she says, aid groups must improve security measures, whether using U.S. or international forces. Both options bring with them new challenges, she says. But either one offers better protection for humanitarian workers on the ground.


"The Washington Times" in an editorial says reports that the U.S. administration "plans to boost U.S. aid to Afghanistan are a recognition that more needs to be done. Aid is needed at all levels in Afghanistan," the paper says.

"Hamid Karzai's government in Kabul needs aid to help it regain the political momentum that has slipped away in the past year. Aid to the regional leaders shows them they have more to gain by supporting the United States and Kabul than allying with one of Afghanistan's neighbors. Aid reaching the grassroots shows that Kabul can make life better without Al-Qaeda and its Taliban allies."

But the paper says, "Judging any government program by the amount spent rather than the results achieved is dangerous." A "new, fully-enabled ambassador in Kabul [and] an expanded U.S. presence are the first steps in providing expertise and making things happen for the better."

The paper goes on to say that many nations that have pledged aid to Afghanistan have failed to pay up. Washington "must urge them to come forward now, rather than later. The U.S. also needs to set an example of making sure that aid money goes to benefit Afghanistan and its security, not boost donor-country industries, enrich the bureaucracies of international organizations, or position NGOs for further donations."

The paper writes, "Too much of the aid for Afghanistan stays in the hands of outside institutions or their staff; too little reaches the Afghans in the villages." Ultimately, "[the] aim of any aid must be a peaceful and secure Afghanistan."

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