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Western Press Review: Iran's Nuclear Agreement, Elections In The Caucasus, And Turkish Troops In Iraq

Prague, 22 October 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Analysis in several major dailies discusses Iran's announcement yesterday that it would cooperate more fully with International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) efforts to monitor its nuclear facilities. The statement came following a high-level meeting in Tehran between Iranian leaders and the French, British, and German foreign ministers. Also at issue in the press today are the difficulties posed by sending Turkish troops to Iraq; unrest following Azerbaijan's contested presidential vote and what this could mean for the upcoming elections in neighboring Georgia; and Washington's more nuanced diplomacy with regard to North Korea.


An "Irish Times" editorial discusses Iran's announcement yesterday that it would sign a new International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) protocol, cooperate more fully with inspections and suspend any program for enriching uranium. The agreement came following talks in Tehran between Iranian authorities and British Foreign Minister Jack Straw, France's Dominique de Villepin, and their German counterpart Joschka Fischer.

The paper says this agreement "symbolizes a more coordinated EU foreign policy approach to a crucial problem in a neighboring region." The paper also remarks that Germany, France, and Britain have "a material as well as a political interest" in resolving this matter, after "having helped supply Iran with nuclear technology in the past and expecting to do so in the future."

The engagement policy pursued by European leaders regarding Iran's nuclear ambitions contrasts sharply with the approach favored by the United States, which believes Iran should be "opposed, isolated and forced to comply" with nuclear inspections if necessary. Yesterday's agreement suggests Europe's leaders have "won a larger argument about the superiority of engagement and diplomatic pressure." Iran's announcement "is a clear gesture toward the EU approach."

Renewed cooperation between leaders in Tehran and Europe also "represents a tactical victory by the secular reformers" led by Iran's President Mohammad Khatami. But yesterday's events fall short of being a true strategic breakthrough because hard-liners within the regime "who oppose the president [say] they have no intention to abandon nuclear enrichment."


Switzerland's "Neue Zuercher Zeitung" declares "Iran is on the way to a more transparent nuclear policy," as the commentary welcomes the outcome of yesterday's talks aimed at defusing an international row over Iran's nuclear program. Three European foreign ministers, Dominique de Villepin of France, Jack Straw of Great Britain, and Joschka Fischer of Germany have succeeded in persuading Iran to accede to more vigorous inspections of its facilities by the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

The paper notes that the new protocol does not give an entirely satisfactory answer to the United States, which has branded Tehran part of the "axis of evil" because it suspects the country of secretly developing a nuclear weapons program. However, the Swiss commentary sees it as a positive move that the IAEA will now have more latitude to ascertain the level of nuclear development in Iran, which should assuage some of the international community's suspicions. Assuming all parties harbor genuinely peaceful intentions will ultimately be in everyone's interest.


An editorial in the London-based "Times" says Tehran's agreement to increase nuclear cooperation following meetings yesterday with British, French, and German leaders "could, if speedily implemented, allow headway to be made." But European leaders "should hold the champagne until they are convinced that Iran's volte-face commits the entire regime" to carrying out its promises.

It is also imperative that flaws inherent in the 1970 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty must be addressed, the paper says. The current treaty enables countries "to get dangerously, and lawfully, close to nuclear weapons production." It permits nations to enrich and reprocess uranium, as well as possess weapons-grade plutonium -- as long as they fully disclose these programs. The "Times" says, "the time margin for detecting and stopping nuclear proliferators has become dangerously and unacceptably limited."


Writing in the "Christian Science Monitor," David L. Phillips of the Council on Foreign Relations' Center for Preventive Action says sending Turkish troops to help stabilize Iraq risks being more trouble than it is worth.

As the successor to the Ottoman Empire, "which ruled Iraq until 1917, Turkey is viewed with suspicion by Arabs and Kurds alike." The U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council "unanimously rejects" the proposal to deploy Turkish troops. Phillips says overruling the council's wishes would undermine the very Iraqis "on whom the U.S. relies to steward restoration of Iraq's sovereignty."

Since the U.S.-led war began, tensions between Turkey and the Iraqi Kurds have been rising. Ankara "has been implicated in a series of events fomenting conflict between Iraqi Turkomens and Kurds." The U.S. Pentagon, while "recognizing there is a problem," believes it can stave off a confrontation by limiting Turkish peacekeepers to the Sunni triangle in central Iraq. "But because of the historical legacy, Turks are distrusted by all Iraqis -- not just Kurds in the north."

Many Iraqis are deeply skeptical of Turkish motives, "believing that Ankara is more interested in safeguarding its interest in Iraq than in helping secure the country." Phillips says to avoid "a showdown between Turks and Iraqis, the U.S. should find an elegant, face-saving way" for Ankara to withdraw the offer of Turkish peacekeepers. "Iraqis are already chafing under occupation, and the presence of Turkish troops will stir further resentment."


A "New York Times" editorial reprinted in today's "International Herald Tribune" says the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush is now taking "a wiser and more sophisticated approach" to the issue of North Korea's nuclear weapons program. Washington will join four other nations in offering Pyongyang a security guarantee in exchange for dismantling its nuclear weapons programs.

The new proposal "makes a peaceful, diplomatic solution to this extremely dangerous problem somewhat more likely," the paper says. But if Pyongyang rejects this "reasonable" offer, Washington will also have an easier time convincing North Korea's regional neighbors "to support more coercive steps, like international economic sanctions."

Over the past year, Washington "has handicapped its own efforts to achieve a diplomatic solution by refusing to specify what America would be willing to do if the North committed itself to giving up its nuclear weapons ambitions in ways outsiders could reliably verify." The White House maintained that offering Pyongyang the nonaggression guarantee it repeatedly asked for would be giving in to "nuclear blackmail." And even U.S. interests were "poorly served" by this unrelenting stance.

Diplomacy is "an important tool for advancing America's national security," the editorial says. "It is good to see it coming back into fashion in the Bush White House."


An analysis by Fred Weir in the "Christian Science Monitor" says days of unrest in Azerbaijan following the contested election to the presidency of Ilham Aliyev, the outgoing president's son, do not bode well for upcoming parliamentary elections in neighboring Georgia. Opposition leaders in Tbilisi are already accusing the state of interfering with the political process. Ahead of the 2 November ballot, there are fears that power struggles among opposition leaders could reignite civil war or fighting with the separatist regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Like Azerbaijan President Heidar Aliyev, Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze "is a former local KGB chief and Communist Party kingpin." Both have "imposed order by authoritarian means, forged truces with Russian-backed separatist movements and charted pro-Western foreign policies." Yet despite widespread allegations of irregularities in Azerbaijan's elections on 15 October, much of the international community has refrained from criticizing the vote. Weir says some observers are already warning that civil unrest could well flare again "if the outside world doesn't act to ensure smoother political transitions in Azerbaijan and Georgia."


An item in "Eurasia View" says Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze has already "hinted that Georgian authorities will strive to emulate the Azerbaijani model for maintaining order during the election and its aftermath. Shevardnadze's comments come as political tension continues to build in Tbilisi." The Georgian leader has vowed to maintain "strict order."

Shevardnadze was "dismissive" of allegations by international monitors that elections in Baku were subject to widespread fraud. "The potential for election-related unrest appears high in Georgia," the paper says. "Shevardnadze critics insist that the government seeks to manipulate the vote so pro-presidential forces can retain control of parliament." Amid heightened tensions with the administration, opposition forces have already "accused the government of trying to steal the votes of Georgian living abroad."


On the subject of Iran -- which yesterday agreed to sign a new International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) protocol, cooperate more fully with inspections, and suspend any program for enriching uranium -- Rudolph Chimelli in the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" says Europe has triumphed and a severe crisis has been averted.

Chimelli says with regard to the development of a common European foreign policy, the Germans and French did not have to work at cross-purposes. Their policies always aimed at cooperation as a way of advancing progress in Iran. Even the British share this attitude and favor a nonviolent change of regime in Iran.

Nevertheless, says the commentary, for London to participate at such a high level in tackling one aspect of the "axis of evil" could not have been an easy decision for this close ally of Washington.

The Iranians themselves can now breathe a sigh of relief, for levying sanctions for noncompliance and growing international tensions would have further deteriorated social conditions. Agreements that are in the interests of all concerned are guaranteed to last the longest, Chimelli concludes.

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