Accessibility links

Breaking News

Western Press Review: Turkey's New Challenges, The Price For U.S. Security, And Georgia's Revolution

Prague, 26 November 2003 (RFE/RL) -- A review of coverage in major dailies today finds discussion of the challenges ahead for Turkey, as it faces new realities following multiple terrorist attacks last week; the U.S. administration's new $400 billion defense bill for fiscal year 2004; Iran's nuclear program, as the International Atomic Energy Agency meets in Vienna; and after Georgia's "Revolution of Roses," what does the future hold for the Caucasus republic?


Writing in "The Washington Times," Ariel Cohen of the Heritage Foundation says the 15 November double synagogue bombings in Istanbul, followed by more attacks in the city near the British Consul and a British-based bank a few days later, are likely to change Turkish society, policies, and politics "as much, if not more" than the 11 September 2001 attacks changed the United States.

"Turkey's geopolitical position, straddling Europe, and the Middle East; its maritime and pipeline transit routes, connecting Iraq, the Caspian, the Black Sea, and the Mediterranean; its democracy and religious tolerance all make it a key U.S. ally in the region," says Cohen. And as a result of the recent attacks, Turkey "is likely to tilt toward the U.S.-led anti-terrorist coalition."

But major internal shifts lie ahead. Ankara will confront "a choice between more democracy and striving toward European Union membership on the one hand and a robust pursuit of terrorists, sometimes beyond the EU's stringent human rights standards, on the other."

Cohen says the "Muslim democrats" of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) party "will inevitably be forced to fight Islamist terror." And in this context, hard-liner groups, the military, the security services and anti-EU factions "are all likely to place increased political pressure on the [AKP] to change its reformist policies."

The U.S. administration "should welcome Turkey's firm commitment to fight terrorism," Cohen says. Washington would do well to expand its security and intelligence cooperation with Turkish security services. But the United States should take care also to encourage Turkey's many "economic, legal, and democratic reforms aimed at joining the EU."


The lead editorial in the British "Guardian" discusses the $400 billion defense bill for 2004 authorized by U.S. President George W. Bush this week. The paper points out that this amount does not include the money allocated for operations in Iraq or Afghanistan. U.S. defense spending has hit record levels under Bush. "It is higher, in relative terms, [than] average American spending during the Cold War years when a hostile Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact confronted the U.S. and its allies with thousands of nuclear warheads."

Some aspects of the new bill are "really scary," the paper says -- or perhaps "just plain scandalous." In one example, the military is exempted from provisions of the Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act. "Apparently," the paper muses, "unpatriotic dolphins and various pacifist fish have been thoughtlessly obstructing training exercises."

The bill allocates more than $9 billion to developing the Star Wars missile defense program, as well as authorizes spending on new research into "a new generation of battlefield nuclear weapons," sometimes referred to as "mini-nukes" or "bunker-buster" bombs. If such weapons are developed, the paper says they "will make nuclear warfare both more doable and more likely."

"The Guardian" says the new weapons project breaches "the spirit if not the letter of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty," and is itself "a potentially egregious act of proliferation."


A "New York Times" editorial says while Britain, France, and Germany favor a diplomatic approach to confronting Iran over its nuclear program, the United States has been pushing "for a crackdown through the United Nations Security Council."

The paper says: "Wisely, Washington has now backed down" and will allow the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to attempt to secure Tehran's compliance.

"There is a struggle in Iran between those who want to cooperate with inspectors and hard-liners who seek a nuclear capability," the paper says. "It would be foolish [for the West] to undercut the pragmatists" by taking an uncompromising stance. "The only clear imperative is that Iran must be pressed to reveal all its nuclear activities [and] cooperate wholeheartedly with international inspectors."

This is best achieved by allowing the IAEA to continue its inspections and interrogations. The paper says when the IAEA's board meets today in Vienna, "it should pass a resolution condemning Iran's secret programs and demanding that Iran prove that its programs are peaceful. The resolution should include a trigger mechanism to force international action if Iran reverts to stonewalling or deception."


A commentary in the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" considers the dispute between the United States and Western Europe -- specifically France, Germany, and Britain -- over the resolution on Iran's nuclear program, due to be adopted by members of the International Atomic Energy Agency's board of governors in Vienna today.

The paper considers whether the uses of "force or reason will ultimately prevail." The commentary points out that Tehran is beginning to cooperate more fully with demands for inspections, and thus the reason-based European theory of engagement has apparently prevailed over the more aggressive U.S. policy, which sought to levy sanctions for Iranian noncompliance.

The commentary predicts that "Iran can live with this resolution." Western powers have come to some agreement on their methodology, but while Berlin, Paris, and London are calling for a de-escalation of tensions, Washington continues to push for disciplinary measures.


Manfred Quiring in "Die Welt" discusses the life and character of Georgia's interim President Nino Burjanadze. Referred to by some as a political "lioness," Burjanadze's occupation of the top spot on the political scene followed the resignation of Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze after a three-week showdown with the country's opposition over disputed parliamentary elections.

After graduating from law school in Tbilisi, 39-year-old Burjanadze began her political career quite unobtrusively, as an adviser. She was elected to parliament for the first time in 1995 when she began to cooperate with Mikhail Saakashvili, now a presidential candidate.

Quiring says Burjanadze's achievements are even more remarkable given that she is a woman -- in Georgia, her success is quite unusual. Only recently, Shevardnadze had declared that "politics is a man's prerogative," describing Burjanadze as a "vicious female."

Nevertheless, her chances in the presidential elections are minimal, says Quiring. The charismatic Saakashvili is likely to win, even though Burjanadze is playing an extremely important role in stabilizing the country during this difficult interim period. However, she is bound to be somehow involved in Georgian politics after the elections.


A contribution to France's "Liberation" by Semih Vaner of the Paris-based Center for International Studies and Research says a recent spate of bomb attacks in Turkey gives rise to several theories regarding the motives of the attacks.

The perpetrators could just be an isolated group of fanatics operating on the margins of society, says Vaner. A Turkish group, the Islamic Front of the Raiders of the Great Orient -- which is believed to have links to Al-Qaeda -- has claimed responsibility for the attacks.

Or the bombings could have been deliberately aimed at destabilizing the government in Ankara.

Turkey, being staunchly secular, is thus anathema to a number of other Muslim countries, particularly in the Arab world. Its diplomatic relations with Israel have also angered some of its fellow Muslim regimes.

But the most likely theory is that the attackers seek to implicate Turkey increasingly in the conflicts that are affecting the region. The moderate attitudes of successive governments in Ankara toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the war in Iraq, and other issues angers the region's powerless and suicidal activists. The involvement of Turkish nationals in Al-Qaeda also remained minimal -- perhaps too minimal for some.

But one constant has characterized Turkish political life until now -- the Islamic polity's tendency to shun violent means.

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