Major newspapers around the globe on Thursday remained as divided on the issue as the world’s political leaders, one day after U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell presented his case against Iraq’s violations of disarmament agreements.
Many papers said Powell failed to show the world a “smoking gun” in Saddam’s hands. However, an editorial in Austria’s Die Presse questioned the logic of insisting on finding incontrovertible evidence.
“How many ‘smoking guns’ did foreign countries have before 1945 to prove the existence of German extermination camps?” the Austrian daily asked.
In Brussels, ambassadors to the military alliance NATO were also split Thursday during debate of contingency plans for military action in Iraq. France, Germany and Belgium continued to insist that planning for war was premature while weapons inspections were still taking place, although Luxembourg removed its objection from January to a formal U.S. request for access to the 19 member states’ airspace and military bases.
At home in France and Britain — two of five countries that hold crucial veto power in the U.N. Security Council — newspapers generally reflected the views of their respective governments.
An editorial in France’s left-leaning Liberation argued the speech was convincing “only for those who were already convinced to begin with,” while the London Times said Powell’s speech was a “withering riposte to Iraq’s taunt that the U.S. has no proof that it has hidden, and continues to hide, illicit weapons of enormous destructive power.”
Britain’s two top-selling dailies, the Mirror and the Sun, splashed with widely differing interpretations of Powell’s dossier of evidence.
“Dodgy tapes, grainy videos, great rhetoric, but where’s the proof Colin?” asked the leftist Mirror, while the Sun’s front page carried photos of Hussein and suspected terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden under the headline: “Monsters Inc.”
The foreign minister of Poland — one of eight European countries that last week signed a letter supporting the firm U.S. stance against Iraq — said his country still hoped for a U.N.-brokered solution to the crisis. However, Powell’s unveiling of evidence did cast new light on the Iraq issue, Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz added while visiting his counterpart in Moscow. He also noted Iraq has not as yet proved it was disarming as it agreed it would, according to a translation by the British Broadcasting Corp.
Cimoszewicz found himself at odds with his Russian host and counterpart, Igor Ivanov, who has said Russia sees no reason to change its position. The Russian news agency Interfax also noted the presidents of Russia and France discussed by telephone Thursday their reactions to Powell’s case and their positions on Iraq. Russia holds veto power in the Security Council with Britain and France, with the United States and China filling the other two permanent seats.
Presidents Vladimir Putin and Jacques Chirac “noted that the views of Russia and France coincide on the Iraqi problem, indicating that it should be resolved by political and diplomatic means and calling for further close interaction in these efforts,” Interfax reported the Russian administration as saying.
In Ukraine, a former Russian satellite in the days of the Soviet Union, Chief of General Staff Oleksandr Zatynayko reportedly declared on television Thursday night he was ready to send a “chemical, radiological and biological protection battalion” to Iraq in support of the United States and its allies.
In Lebanon, however, the consensus among officials and media was that Powell failed both to provide convincing proofs against Iraq and to convince Arabs and Muslims of his country’s good intentions.
Information Minister Ghazi Aridi asked why the documents displayed by Powell during the Security Council meeting on Wednesday were “not presented to the U.N. weapons inspectors and all information were not put at their disposal so that they play their role in harmony with U.N. Security Council resolutions.”
He then added, “The problem today is that the U.S. does not only target Iraq but wants to seize the whole region and confiscate its resources as well as release Israel’s hand.”
An article in the leftist Lebanese As Safir newspaper led with “Washington moves to the final stage of the attack on Iraq” and described Powell’s proofs as “a drama show.” The French-language L’Orient Le Jour said Iraq’s description of his speech as “lies and show the American way” was “very expressive.”
“The voice of Arabs must be loud in order to resolve the issue of Iraq peacefully,” urged a commentary aired Thursday night by Arab Republic of Egypt Radio in Cairo. “Iraq has stressed that it strives in every possible way to avoid war with the USA. It remains for the international community to allow international inspectors to continue their mission inside Iraq without impediments and for new information contained in Secretary Powell’s address to be immediately referred to the inspectors for verification as requested by Iraq itself,” it broadcast according to a BBC translation.
Farther east, Uzbekistan’s foreign minister said Thursday the predominantly Muslim country supports more resolute and cardinal measures to disarm Iraq.
Powell’s arguments “cogently prove the rightfulness of the U.S. position that more resolute and cardinal measures should be used to make sure that Iraq does not own weapons of mass destruction … (or) technologies of its production,” Abdulaziz Kamilov told journalists at a press briefing in the capital Tashkent.
Uzbek President Islam Karimov was one of the first world leaders in 2001 who supported U.S. operations in Afghanistan, Uzbekistan’s neighbor to the south, and opened both airspace and bases in his country for use by coalition forces. Islamic militants, threatening Karimov’s secular regime, often based their operations in the shelter of Afghanistan — an option U.S.-led forces have since largely shut down while the White House significantly increased aid to Uzbekistan.
One of the United States’ major allies in Asia, Japan, suggested Thursday it may back military action against Iraq at the same time it urged a new U.N. resolution to support such a move.
President Junichiro Koizumi said he is more suspicious of Iraq’s intentions after hearing Powell’s evidence, according the Japan Times.
Criticism of the U.S. stand on Iraq is “completely skewed,” the daily reported Koizumi as saying. “The essence of the problem is that Iraq has not observed U.N. resolutions for the past 10 years.”
(With reporting by Gareth Harding in Brussels, Dalal Saoud in Beirut, Marina Kozlova in Tashkent and Elizabeth Manning in Washington.)