Prague, 28 August 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Among the topics addressed by major press outlets today are Serbia and Montenegro's friendly gestures toward Washington, Beijing's propitious diplomacy ahead of this week's discussions on North Korean disarmament, the economic recovery of Russia's remote eastern region, and how to give Iraq "back to the Iraqis."
We also take a look at the discussion surrounding British Prime Minister Tony Blair's expected testimony today at a judicial inquiry looking into the death of former government weapons adviser David Kelly. Blair will likely face questions as to why Kelly was publicly identified as a source for a BBC report on Iraqi weapons and whether the government misled the public by exaggerating the threat posed by Iraq. Kelly was found dead near his home last month with a slashed wrist just days after being questioned on the BBC report by a parliamentary committee.
Federic Bobin of France's daily "Le Monde" says talks beginning yesterday in Beijing on North Korea's nuclear program have offered China a new opportunity to play a major role in international negotiations. Officials from Russia, Japan, North and South Korea, the United States, and China will attempt to reach an agreement between disarming North Korea, as Washington demands, and providing security guarantees and economic aid to Pyongyang.
After the failure of a trilateral meeting in April between China, North Korea, and the United States, Bobin says Beijing launched into an unprecedented round of international mediation. Deputy Foreign Minister Dai Bingguo went to Pyongyang, then to Washington, pressing both capitals to resume dialogue. That Pyongyang eventually agreed to broad multilateral talks, as Washington insisted, rather than demanding bilateral negotiations is a testament to the success of Beijing's influence with its historical North Korean ally.
Beijing is also concerned about having a nuclear-armed neighbor on the Korean Peninsula, Bobin says. And its economic assistance to North Korea, which includes almost all its oil supplies and one-third of its food imports, allows China much influence with Pyongyang. Bobin says that although Beijing is vexed by the "archaic" ideology of Kim Jong Il's regime, it does not want it to collapse, which would create dangerous volatility on China's borders.
An editorial in London's "The Independent" says as British Prime Minister Tony Blair faces a parliamentary inquiry today, he will be answering "questions we would all want to ask -- questions to which everyone in [Britain] deserves answers. What was the prime minister hoping to achieve with his dossier on Iraq's weapons capability? How closely did he follow its compilation? How closely did he follow the dispute with BBC and how much of what subsequently transpired, including the suicide of Dr. David Kelly, occurred as a consequence of his orders?"
Throughout the investigation thus far, Blair "has been described as aware of developments, approving decisions, but always delegating." The paper asks: "Was there anyone in command, responsible, or was there a vacuum at the center of power? [How] much responsibility does 'awareness' imply?"
"The Independent" goes on to say that Blair "is a polished performer -- one of the best in the political business." But in the wake of the controversial war in Iraq and the death of weapons expert Kelly, Blair is still facing huge issues about public trust. And these lingering doubts "will be a political albatross around Mr. Blair's neck long, long after the Hutton inquiry is over."
An item in "The Economist" magazine this week discusses what it says are recent moves by the government of Serbia and Montenegro to ingratiate itself with Washington. Last month, Prime Minister Zoran Zivkovic offered to send 1,000 troops to Iraq. Amid the domestic outcry that followed, Zivkovic offered troops for Liberia instead. "In business matters too the Serbians are eager to please," "The Economist" says, citing recent deals between U.S. firms and a Serbian cigarette factory and the Smederevo steel factory.
So "why all this hospitality?" "The Economist" asks. "Not least, to get Kosovo back. Its final status will soon be under negotiation. The Serbians have agreed to talks on technical matters with Kosovo's ethnic Albanian leaders, and they reckon that good relations with the United States would be a help when real issues come up."
Kosovar Albanians have enjoyed much Western support since the 1999 NATO-led campaign sought to put an end to Serbian repression in the province. But this support "may be on the wane," the magazine says, due to recent violence "against both UN personnel and the province's 100,000 remaining Serbs." Alleged links between the Albanian National Army and Islamic terrorist groups also "do not advance the Albanians' cause."
But whether Zivkovic can hold steady on this pro-American path remains doubtful, says "The Economist." With approval ratings around 15 percent, new elections could well return the party of former President Vojislav Kostunica to power. "But for now," the magazine says, "the unlikely cuddling up to the Americans goes on."
INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE:
Writing in the "International Herald Tribune," Philip Bowring looks at the improving economic conditions for Russia's remote eastern region. The overall rise in Russia's fortunes in past years "has taken a long time to reach the remote east," he says. But under President Vladimir Putin, the government "has awakened to the economic potential and strategic importance of regions that suffered especially severely from the collapse of the Soviet system."
Russia's Far East saw "depopulation as well as economic decline," as Russian settlers left the area and were replaced by migrants from China and elsewhere. This trend can only be reversed as the region's economy gears up, Bowring says. And as of now, that "is just beginning."
But all over the region, there are signs "of the new Russia's progress and cooperation, [including] a geo-thermal power station built with loans from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, foreign mining investment, and [a] national park, home to hot springs, bears and fishing lodges that are attracting increasing [numbers] of hardy but well-heeled tourists."
Bowring suggests Russia can expect more foreign economic interest and investment in the future. Its own recovery combined with strategic shifts since the 11 September 2001 attacks "have made China and Japan as well as the United States conscious of the attractions of Russian energy and the need to put history and territorial claims into the background, at least for now."
FRANKFURTER ALLGEMEINE ZEITUNG:
An editorial in the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" looks at the prospects for the three-day meeting in Beijing on North Korean disarmament involving delegates from North and South Korea, Russia, China, the U.S., and Japan. The negotiations aim to end the standoff between North Korea and the United States over Pyongyang's alleged pursuit of nuclear weapons capabilities.
The paper says nobody expects the delegates to make speedy progress. In fact, it says, many expected the meeting to come to a speedy end with little in the way of concrete agreements. But for now, it seems North Korea wants to find a solution that might save it from having to hand over control of its nuclear facilities to international authorities. The paper says an agreement may well be possible, provided North Korea receives sufficient aid and security guarantees. But the crux of the matter will become clear when the issue of inspections is tabled. "At that point it will be evident whether North Korea's partners in the discussion manage to agree on a common stand toward Kim Jong Il," because, as the paper says, "you cannot simply put your trust in him."
A commentary in "Die Welt" by Dietrich Alexander sounds a warning regarding enriched uranium in Iran. All evidence seems to indicate that the regime in Tehran is purchasing components on the world market to produce nuclear weapons, he says. Apparently North Korea helped provide the rocket technology and Pakistan, the nuclear components. Even worse, says Alexander, is that the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) "has been completely blind to these developments."
Alexander says it is understandable that Iran strives to possess nuclear weapons in order to make itself "untouchable." On the other hand, the suspected links between Tehran and terrorists -- members of the Shi'ite Hizballah are supported as freedom fighters -- makes its potential possession of nuclear weapons "unpredictable and dangerous."
It makes little difference that Teheran is willing to sign a supplement to the agreement on nuclear weapons that would permit unannounced inspections, says Alexander. For one thing, he says, it may take more than a year before such an agreement comes into force. Secondly, Tehran insists on its sovereignty over the course of the inspections. And yet the point of this exercise is, in part, to yield some measure of sovereignty. Alexander says Tehran's latest moves do not add to its credibility. He predicts Teheran "will further isolate itself by refusing the world community access to its atomic program."
INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE:
Writing in the "International Herald Tribune," Iraqi political scientist Gailan Ramiz says U.S. efforts in Iraq "have suffered both from U.S. policies based on false premises and from the generally inadequate quality of the available Iraqi leadership."
Before the war, observers in Washington and elsewhere falsely predicted that post-Saddam Hussein Iraq would become "a new model for democracy in the Middle East, and would lead to the toppling of other non-democratic regimes." But this prediction was based largely on wishful thinking and thus "bound to fail," he says. Today, U.S. civil administrator in Iraq Paul Bremer "seems to assume" that issues regarding security, water, electricity, and the like "are purely technical and can be dealt with [at] a technical level." But Ramiz insists these issues are fundamentally political and are compromised by Iraq's lack of viable political processes and institutions.
Ramiz says the other contributing factor to the setbacks in Iraq is the "generally inadequate quality" of Iraqi political leaders. Members of the Iraqi Governing Council should be regularly appearing "on Iraqi television and in public places [to] explain to the Iraqi people the historical transformation that is taking place in Iraq -- and to tell Iraqis what is expected of them."
Ramiz says Iraq needs the Governing Council to become the recognized and sovereign government of Iraq. A new UN resolution would establish this and end the occupation. A transitional federal constitution should then be adopted, along with a permanent bill of rights. In two years, a referendum could be held on whether Iraq should be a republic or a constitutional monarchy, followed by a general election to choose a parliament.
THE WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE:
"The Wall Street Journal Europe" in an editorial today discusses enriched-uranium particles found in samples from the Natanz facility in Iran, which officials say could be used in the development of a nuclear weapon. Iran "acknowledged that weapons-grade uranium was discovered, but claims the traces come from used imports that were contaminated before they arrived in Iran. The International Atomic Energy Agency [seems] to want to give Tehran the benefit of the doubt. And yet everything we know about Iran's nuclear ambitions suggests that Tehran is still hiding its true capabilities and intentions."
The paper says the "main question" for the IAEA "is whether it will pass a resolution next month to find Iran in 'noncompliance' with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which would result in Iran's violations being reported to the UN Security Council." The editorial says, "Unless it obtains proof that the traces found were not processed in Iran, which is doubtful, the IAEA must find Iran to be in breach of its NPT obligations and refer the matter to the UN Security Council." If the UN "fails to act, [we] can expect a half-dozen other countries -- none of them stable democracies -- to follow in Tehran and Pyongyang's footsteps."
(RFE/RL's Dora Slaba contributed to this report.)