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Western Press Review: The Bush-Putin Summit, New Atomic Inspections In Iran, And Bosnia's Economic Challenges

Prague, 26 September 2003 (RFE/RL) -- A review of coverage in major media outlets today finds a look at Iran's nuclear ambitions as UN inspectors prepare to head to the country, analysis of U.S.-Russian relations as leaders of the two nations prepare to meet at Camp David near Washington, Bosnian economic challenges, and the selection of Jaap de Hoop Scheffer as NATO's new secretary-general, among other issues.


"The Washington Post" in an editorial remarks that Russian President Vladimir Putin likes to compare Russia's war against Chechen separatists with U.S.-led antiterrorist campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But the paper says in reality, "the comparison is obscene. In Chechnya, Russian troops have wiped out a democratically elected government, killed tens of thousands of civilians, forced others out of refugee camps and back into the war zone, reduced the capital and every major town to rubble, indiscriminately rounded up the entire male populations of dozens of villages for torture or summary execution and so shattered the country's civil society that previously marginal Islamic extremists now are a major force."

After launching the war in Chechnya four years ago "in an effort to bolster his own presidential ambitions, Mr. Putin has found himself trapped," the editorial says. "[Thousands] of Russian soldiers have been killed and Mr. Putin has repeatedly declared the war over, [but] the bloodshed relentlessly goes on."

Elections scheduled for October had offered some hope of political progress. "If a credible Chechen leader had been chosen to replace the deeply unpopular Kremlin appointee, [Akhmed-hadji] Kadyrov, meaningful negotiations on the republic's future might have been possible."

But instead, Putin "chose the Stalinist route of eliminating Mr. Kadyrov's main opponents" and rendering the upcoming election a mere sideshow.


On 28 September, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors will return to Iran for the first time since setting a 31 October deadline for Tehran to prove it is not manufacturing weapons-grade nuclear material. "The Christian Science Monitor" says if the country's conservative mullahs block inspections or miss the deadline, the IAEA might recommend that the UN Security Council levy economic sanctions on Iran -- "much like the sanctions on Iraq that never really worked."

Nevertheless, the paper says, the U.S. and the UN's atomic-energy agency "are working together -- in contrast to the UN-U.S. split over Iraq." In Tehran, a "lively debate" has begun over how to respond to the IAEA request.

Western powers "may try using both sanctions and incentives to bring Iran around. In fact, France, Britain, and Germany have offered to help it develop safe nuclear [power]. But there's tension over whether to keep one card on the table: the threat of a military strike on Iran, or at least on its nuclear facilities."

The paper says the U.S. and Europe "should avoid splitting over this issue and do everything short of war to make Iran comply."


"The Economist" says Iran's strategy of choice when confronted over its nuclear ambitions has been "to play for time." But this approach "backfired badly last week when the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) expressed its collective exasperation with Iran's evasive attitude" by setting a 31 October deadline to come clean on its nuclear program.

The magazine says Tehran "mistakenly pinned its hopes" on European nations blocking any U.S.-backed proposals. But "[concern] over Iran's nuclear activities has been mounting on both sides of the Atlantic," "The Economist" says. The end result "was a diplomatic disaster for a country that has made a priority of courting Europe as a buffer against America."

The nuclear row has also "exposed the limits [of] authority" of reformist President Mohammad Khatami's government. Some reformists claimed the EU's strong stance would give "ammunition" to Iran's hard-line conservative clerics. But there "is little sign that the reformists have the final say on the issues that matter to the rest of the world, and the gap between Iran's words and actions could no longer be overlooked."

The magazine says even the most avid supporters of the EU's constructive-engagement policy on Iran are now forced to question its efficacy. And now that even Paris and Washington are standing "side by side" on this issue, "The Economist" says Tehran "has managed to produce the seemingly unattainable: trans-Atlantic unity."


In a contribution to "The Moscow Times," Sergei Markov of the Institute of Political Studies and the Civic Committee on Foreign Affairs says U.S. troubles in Iraq "have given rise to 'schadenfreude' among certain sections of Russian society."

Meanwhile, in the name of advocating an "immediate transfer of power to the Iraqi people, world leaders would wash their hands of responsibility, and power in Iraq would quickly be seized by Islamic radicals."

Markov says U.S. President George W. Bush did make "a big mistake by going into Iraq, but if he cuts and runs, the consequences will be tragic" for both the U.S. and Russia. Now that the United States "desperately needs help" in Iraq, there is another chance "to forge a genuine alliance" between Moscow and Washington. "In Russia, there is a growing conviction that Russia and America should be strategic allies."

"There is, however, a problem," Markov writes. "The United States, proud of its role as the one and only superpower, is incapable of appreciating the concessions made by other countries. As a result, many in Russia, even those who understand the imperative of helping the Americans, are in favor of waiting for the United States to get further bogged down in Iraq. Given the widespread distrust of the United States in the Russian establishment, the best chance for a deal lies in the personal friendship and trust" between Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin.


An editorial in "The Wall Street Journal Europe" says the choice of Dutchman Jaap de Hoop Scheffer to replace the outgoing Lord George Robertson as NATO secretary-general "suggests the old trans-Atlantic military alliance has plenty of life left in it."

As a career diplomat, de Hoop Scheffer "may lack the military background that Robertson, a former defense minister, brought to Brussels. But the Dutchman has proved to be a deft advocate of close trans-Atlantic ties. The Netherlands put troops on the ground in Afghanistan and Iraq, backing up its words with action."

Robertson "leaves the alliance in reasonably good shape, all things considered. NATO took over the Afghan mission last month and might have a future role in Iraq." And the editorial says de Hoop Scheffer "seems well-qualified to build on NATO's recent achievements."


In the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung," Friederike Bauer looks at the little-noticed anniversary last week (18 September) of Germany's 30 years of membership in the United Nations.

She says: "When the world organization's founders gathered in 1945, the atrocities of Nazi Germany were fresh in everyone's minds -- indeed, finding a way to avoid a similar catastrophe was a major motivation for them coming together."

In remembering this, says Bauer, "it is easy to appreciate the long road the country has taken, from being an 'enemy state' to being a divided one, then unification and today -- 58 years after the war's end -- a rotating member of the UN Security Council confident enough to press for permanent membership."

Most important for postwar Germany's continuing development as a "normal country" was its decision to participate in UN peacekeeping missions. For historical reasons, Germany was for decades unwilling to send soldiers abroad. Only following a Federal Constitutional Court ruling in 1994 was Germany able to participate in collective security missions.

Since then, the number of German "blue helmets" -- UN peacekeepers -- has risen steadily, to 8,200 at present. Most importantly, says Bauer, "Germany continues to see the United Nations as its preferred stage as it sets about enlisting allies to advance its international objectives."


"The Economist" weekly says many aspects of life continue to improve in Bosnia. There is now one Bosnian passport, and movement throughout the country is unrestricted. Many of the war's refugees have returned home or reclaimed their property.

"Yet all this progress may still be reversed," the magazine says. "Opinion polls show that the ethnic rivalry that tore the country apart a decade ago no longer bothers ordinary people as much as it did. What they worry most about is jobs. And some fear that the economy is so bad that it could again create ethnic tension and revive the political fortunes of violent nationalists."

Foreign aid "is drying up." Many companies and institutions in Bosnia are mired in debt. Poverty is worsening, and government revenue is shrinking. The magazine cites Gerald Knaus of the Berlin-based European Stability Initiative as saying that the huge amount of foreign investment that has been pumped into Bosnia has been a success, but that new policies are needed to ensure all that money -- estimated at $19 billion -- does not go to waste.

Knaus suggests the European Union should get involved, applying policies similar to what it has done to spur reform in Greece, Bulgaria, and Romania. The EU is now undertaking a feasibility study on this prospect, but "The Economist" says Bosnians "want EU handouts fast."


An item in France's "Le Monde" says Russian President Vladimir Putin adopted "a low profile" so as not to offend Washington in his speech at the UN General Assembly yesterday (25 September).

Putin called for the "direct participation" of the UN in the reconstruction of Iraq, while stopping short of demanding a timetable for a U.S. withdrawal and the full return of Iraqi sovereignty, as Paris and Berlin have insisted. The French daily notes, however, that Putin did allow his foreign minister, Igor Ivanov, to say that a "calendar" of some sort is necessary for a transfer of power and a troop withdrawal.

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, meanwhile, announced that there would be a further reduction in UN staff in Iraq, following another attack on 22 September seemingly aimed at the UN mission in Baghdad. He emphasized, however, that this was not an evacuation of UN workers, merely a decrease in the active duty workforce in Iraq.

Up to 600 UN workers were in the country before the 19 August attack that killed the world organization's special envoy to Iraq, Sergio Vieira de Mello, and 21 others. The number of UN workers now stands at 42 in Baghdad and 44 others in northern Iraq. The paper says even this partial retreat comes as a major blow for the United States, which is fervently seeking increased UN involvement to assist their efforts in Iraq.


A commentary in the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" debates some of the moral issues underlying the refusal of 27 Israeli Air Force reservist pilots to carry out air strikes in Palestinian territories, on the grounds that such attacks are "illegal and immoral."

The paper says Israel has launched military operations that "are unworthy of a democratic state even in the position of an occupier." The reaction of the pilots, and the many others who share their opinion, makes amply clear that a section of the Israeli population questions the morality of attacking a civilian population.

To be rid of this moral burden is yet another reason why a peaceful solution to the Israeli-Palestinian problems must be found. It is clear that neither side can win this war. Apart from the many casualties on both sides, "the moral damage" should be taken into consideration, says the commentary. "It is possible to rebuild damaged houses and reconstruct communications. But wounded souls cannot be quickly healed."

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