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Western Press Review: Commentary Debates -- Who Won Libya?

Prague, 23 December 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Commentary in the Western press today centers on the recent announcement by Libyan leader Moamar Gadhafi that his country was voluntarily giving up its programs to acquire weapons of mass destruction, and what may have caused him to take the surprise step.


"The New York Times" columnist William Safire coins today what may be the phrase of the year in international affairs. He calls the recent actions of Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi "preemptive surrender."

Safire files a claim for the credit for what he calls Gadhafi's "epiphany" on behalf of U.S. President George W. Bush. The writer says that Gadhafi "was transformed into a pussycat by the force of American arms in stopping the spread of mass-destruction weaponry."

The columnist continues: "Why did Gadhafi have his spy chief, Musa Kussa, approach Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain -- and not France, Germany or the milquetoast United Nations, to get off President George W. Bush's short list of rogue nations? The reason: Britain was America's primary ally in the war against Saddam and was the bridge to Washington. This shows that it pays to be the staunch friend of the United States in extending freedom and does not increase a nation's strategic importance to be America's political adversary."


In Britain's "Financial Times," commentator Philip Stevens writes that praise for taming Gadhafi can be spread farther and more evenly. He says: "Of course, the arguments have already started about whether Colonel Gadhafi's volte-face was a response to the show of U.S. military might in Iraq or to the patient diplomatic engagement of the British government. The truth is probably that there was something of both. Americans have still to learn the value of incentives alongside ultimatums; Europeans know that sometimes it helps to wield a stick alongside the carrot. In any event, [British Prime Minister Tony] Blair can claim credit on both ledgers."


"The Irish Times" concludes in an editorial that Gadhafi's motives must be as complex as are the man himself and the situation. The newspaper says: "Libya's decision to renounce its plans to build weapons of mass destruction has been widely and deservedly welcomed. But interpreting why it came about is becoming as controversial as the Anglo-American war against Iraq."

The editorial goes on: "Timing, tactics and motives feed into the argument. United Nations sanctions against Libya, in place since the 1980s after its adventures with state terrorism -- including large arms shipments to the IRA and the Lockerbie bombing -- were much more effective than Ronald Reagan's punitive raid of 1986. Colonel Gadhafi's decision to settle the Lockerbie affair at great cost led to their being lifted by the UN last year. Following secret talks with U.S. and British representatives these countries are to follow suit. This will allow Libya to rejoin the international oil markets and attract investment and tourism. A clear motive for Colonel Gadhafi has been to preserve his own regime from internal dissent and destabilization."

The newspaper says, "Most of this has followed pathways of negotiation laid down before the Iraq war, involving calculations of advantage and disadvantage about the effects of sanctions rather than the threat of force."


"The Miami Herald" says in an editorial that while Gadhafi's behavior may have changed, there is no reason to believe that the man is different. The editorial says: "The decision by Colonel Moammar Gadhafi to open his country's doors to international inspectors searching for prohibited weapons is a welcome and surprising turn of events. Welcome because of the prospect that one more rogue nation has apparently decided to opt for respectability rather than revolution. Welcome because it represents a victory by means of diplomacy -- albeit hard-nosed diplomacy -- by U.S. and British leaders. And welcome, as well, because it provides another argument in support of diplomatic and economic sanctions as a useful tool of foreign policy."

The newspaper says: "There is nothing to suggest that Gadhafi has suddenly undergone a change of heart. More likely, the decision is driven by his need to gain access to Western technology so that Libya can upgrade its oil fields and earn more oil income. Although the talks leading to the decision to open Libya to inspectors reportedly began before the U.S. invasion of Iraq, it is safe to say that the way events have unfolded has made it clear to him that there is no future in remaining a pariah."


Columnist Frank J. Gaffney Jr., writes in "The Washington Times" that Gadhafi's new promises should be welcomed but not necessarily believed; that new behavior by Gadhafi but not necessarily Gadhafi himself should be welcomed by responsible nations. Gaffney writes, "Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi declared on Friday he was willing verifiably to give up his country's various weapons of mass destruction and his programs to acquire more."

The writer says: "The question occurs: Even if Colonel Gadhafi took these steps, and met U.S. demands that he also end his long-standing support for international terror, should the United States and its allies endorse -- and facilitate -- his continued hold on power in Libya? To be sure, President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair are entitled to credit for bringing Colonel Gadhafi even this far."

Gaffney writes: "To its credit, too, the Bush administration has indicated it will not be rushed into normalizing relations with Libya. For one thing, there is powerful reason, given his track record, to be concerned the dictator will not honor his commitments. Colonel Gadhafi is notoriously erratic, unpredictable and unreliable. In fact, as 'The New York Times' reported Sunday, his mercurial diplomatic and personal antics have made the Libyan despot an object of ridicule in Arab governing circles."


"Frankfurter Rundschau" commentator Pierre Simonitsch says that in order to present himself as a new obedient servant, Gadhafi is permitted to bluff in what Simonitsch says is a political poker game.

Simonitsch writes: "Bush and Blair urgently need success in fighting the axis of evil. It does not cost Gadhafi anything to renounce weapons of mass destruction. The agreement permits him to join the club of respectable statesmen. His arms potential is minimal anyway and remains at a research level."

The commentary continues: "Gadhafi was always a bit of a showoff. Now when without further pressure he admits to possessing an nuclear-weapons project, then this is part of a poker game. The more credibly he presents his potential threat, the higher are the stakes for reciprocal gestures for renouncing such weapons."


The "Los Angeles Times" urges UN weapons inspectors to make haste in Libya. The newspaper says in an editorial: "The chief United Nations weapons inspector's announcement [yesterday] that he will lead a team to Libya as early as next week to start dismantling the desert nation's chemical, biological and nuclear weapons programs reflects the proper urgency in stopping the spread of weapons of mass destruction. Libyan leader Colonel Moammar Gadhafi's surprise offer to voluntarily give up the weapons was a welcome tribute to diplomacy of many years and the threat of force magnified by the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. Still, Gadhafi will never be trustworthy."

The editorial concludes: "Inspectors should require Libya to detail where it obtained the equipment to produce its weapons. Stopping suppliers could be a major tool in preventing the spread of weapons that, as President Bush said in announcing Libya's change of heart, 'bring isolation and otherwise unwelcome consequences' rather than influence."

Three British newspapers comment in editorials today on aspects of Middle East instability.


The "Financial Times" says that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is trotting out an old and failed policy when he talks of "imposing a solution" on the Palestinians. The newspaper calls it "Sharon's Annexation."

The editorial says: "Ariel Sharon's threat to impose a solution on the Palestinians if there is no progress with the internationally underwritten road map for the Middle East should not be treated lightly. It is not a peace strategy. Nor is it, as the Israeli prime minister disingenuously suggests, a disengagement plan derived dispassionately from Israel's need to protect itself against suicide bombers. It is an annexation plan. Mr. Sharon and his allies may argue that this is a logical and legitimate response to two years of the second intifada. In that case they should explain why the plan is identical in its essentials to a map drawn up -- by Mr. Sharon-- two decades ago."


"The Daily Telegraph" discusses Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf's contentions that recently disclosed cooperation between Pakistani and Iranian nuclear scientists was a private, not state-backed, initiative. The editorial says: "The questioning of Pakistani scientists about alleged nuclear assistance to Iran places the West in a dilemma. On the one hand, President Pervez Musharraf is a key ally in the war on global terror. On the other, he heads a country with good claim to be a leading secondary proliferator of weapons of mass destruction.

"Before Iran told the International Atomic Energy Agency that Pakistani scientists had helped develop its nuclear weapons program in the late 1980s, they had already been linked with Libya, which last week announced it was renouncing its WMD ambitions, and North Korea, which, like Iran, is a member of George W. Bush's 'axis of evil.'

"General Musharraf's government says that any help given to Iran was done in a private capacity, a questionable claim given the army's control over the drive for an 'Islamic bomb.' It also argues, more persuasively, that the cooperation took place under a previous regime. However, one should not overlook the continuing enthusiasm in Pakistan for the achievement of becoming in 1998 the first Muslim country to explode a nuclear device."


"The Independent" denounces what it calls a Palestinian mob's "near lynching" yesterday of Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher in Jerusalem's holy Al-Aqsa mosque. The newspaper says: "The assault on the foreign minister of Egypt, Ahmed Maher, during a visit to the Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem yesterday was a disgraceful episode that, alas, said much about the current state and complexity of Israeli-Arab relations. Mr. Maher had gone to pray at the mosque after talks with the Israeli prime minister, Ariel Sharon. He was jostled and beaten by Palestinians unhappy about the prospect of a resumption of Israeli-Palestinian talks."

"The Independent" continues: "That an assault should have taken place inside one of Islam's most sacred shrines testifies to the depth of suspicion harbored by some Palestinians towards fellow Arabs who are prepared to treat with the Israeli government. It is evidence, too, of the degree to which politics has overtaken religion as their prime motivating force. The absence of any overt Israeli security presence was also telling. Israeli police remained outside the vicinity of the mosque, reflecting Israel's new sensitivity towards Muslim holy places. This shows a laudable restraint on Israel's part which, on this occasion, regrettably backfired."

The editorial concludes: "There was a fearful symmetry about what happened at the Al-Aqsa mosque yesterday. It was Ariel Sharon's fateful decision to visit the Temple Mount in September 2000 that precipitated the latest Palestinian intifada and brought Mr. Sharon to power as the candidate Israelis judged best equipped answer their clamor for security. The best that can be hoped for now is that everyone concerned is shocked into renewing the search for peace. The near lynching of the Egyptian foreign minister on soil sacred to Judaism and Islam gave us a glimpse of the alternative."

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