What the foreign papers are saying.
Feb. 4 1998 3:30 AM

British Prime Minister Tony Blair's promise to give military support to the United States in any conflict with Iraq received less-than-wholehearted support in the British press. The liberal Guardian led its front page Monday with a story about growing unrest within the ruling Labor Party about Blair's policy. Left-winger Tony Benn, a former Cabinet minister, told the newspaper, "Britain has just taken over the Presidency of the European Union. We have had a lot of speeches about how Britain is going to speak for the Union. Europe doesn't support this. Why should a British Prime Minister go to Washington and do everything he's told by Clinton?"


In its main editorial, the Guardian supported U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan in calling for more time to resolve the crisis with diplomacy, not force. Surprisingly, the conservative Rupert Murdoch-owned Sunday Times took a similar view. "Bombing Saddam is a policy without a goal," it said. "The West knows bombs will not lead to his overthrow, but feels it has to do something. In this it has lost sight of its true objective: to oust Saddam in the pursuit of a peace in the Middle East and a semblance of human rights in Iraq. The strategy is a desperate one: it might encourage someone inside Iraq to kill him. But it is a hope, not a policy."

Another conservative British newspaper, the Sunday Telegraph, backed military action, although it said: "When President Clinton orders cruise missiles to be fired and bombs to be dropped, it will not be Saddam Hussein who suffers. It will be the civilians of his country--and almost certainly the women and children among them." The British government, committed to an "ethical" foreign policy, had been desperately seeking a high-minded moral justification for bombing Iraq, it said. "They have failed to find one, because there isn't one. The only justification for bombing Iraq is the crude utilitarian calculus: violence now by the West should help to prevent future violence, on a far greater scale, by Saddam."

Its sister newspaper, the Daily Telegraph, said Monday (in an editorial titled "Be Ready for War") that the United States and Britain "must face the knowledge that an air campaign alone cannot guarantee Iraqi compliance." Absent unlimited access for weapons inspectors, ground-troop deployment was the only way to find and destroy Iraq's cache of chemical and biological weapons. "Washington and London could be at the start of a long and escalating campaign," the editorial concluded. Even the ultraconservative tabloid the DailyMail urged Blair to be wary about using force against Saddam. "Will strafing Iraqi military installations one more time make the Middle East a safer place--or will it only serve to perpetuate Saddam's malign influence by perversely giving him added kudos with his long-suffering people?" it asked.

The Corriere della Sera of Milan carried an interview with former U.S. Secretary of State James Baker, in which he urged a much heavier bombardment of Iraq than the "pin pricks" of the Gulf War. "We will have to strike his [Saddam's] 'palaces,' military installations, and also civilian infrastructures, from bridges to power stations," he was quoted as saying. "I am sorry that the Iraqi people will have to suffer, but the fault is Saddam's, not ours." Baker said that although the anti-Iraq coalition of the Gulf War could not be resurrected, America today was not isolated. "France has become closer to us, and some Arab states that appear to be keeping their distance are in reality supporting us," he said. He added that this time, Israel should respond if attacked by Iraqi missiles. "The situation today is quite different from the situation seven years ago," he said. "Then there were several Arab states in the coalition, and it was important that Israel stay out of a prolonged conflict. Now, a brief Israeli reprisal would seem justified to everyone."


La Repubblica of Rome announced in an editorial the end of the New International Order. The United States' allies--above all the Europeans--presented a front in total disintegration, it said. "Only Great Britain is unconditionally on the U.S. side." "France, Germany, and Italy are in discussions with the United States, but are closer to the position of those countries, led by Russia, that are firmly opposed to military intervention. It is a heterogeneous front that includes China, moderate Arab countries (like Egypt), and radical ones (like Libya), as well as Iran." This is the beginning of a "revolution in the world political order," and its outcome will be determined by that of Clinton's battle with the Third World countries, which are equipping themselves with weapons of mass destruction. "If Saddam wins, the eclipse of American hegemony will begin. We are in an era of great unknowns."

In Davos, Switzerland, for the World Economic Forum, Iran's 37-year-old Vice President Masumeh Ebtekar told Corriere della Sera that Iran would be "on the side of the Iraqi people" in the event of a U.S. attack. This was primarily for humanitarian reasons, she said, "but we also have other fears." Iran has one of the greatest concentrations of refugees in the world, she said--3.5 million, of whom 2.5 million are Iraqis. "You can imagine how we might view the prospect of a new conflict." Asked if she thought it was possible to negotiate with Saddam Hussein, she replied, "Personally, I have my doubts."

The liberal Israeli daily Ha'aretz reported that both Israel and the United States believed that Iraq had no interest in involving Israel in any military confrontation with the West, but that the United States had agreed to supply more defense equipment to Israel "if the conflict with Iraq becomes more acute." It also reported that many thousands of people around the country had been queuing up for gas masks. In an account of Secretary of State Madeleine Albright's visit to Jerusalem, Ha'aretz said she was frustrated by the lack of progress in the Middle East peace talks and had told both Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, "I am sick and tired of hearing you giving me a pile of complaints about the other side."

Zippergate coverage has dwindled in European newspapers, though the Paris evening paper France-Soir had a front-page comment Monday headlined "Monica's Eyes," claiming that Lewinsky's "passionate look" in photographs left no room for doubt about her relationship with the president. There was no need for her to confess to anything, for those eyes were the "two principal witnesses" in the case and gave "irrefutable proof" of her passion, it said. Outstripping Zippergate in column inches Monday was the imminent execution of Karla Faye Tucker, which was the subject of the editorial in the liberal Independent of London. Welcoming the Rev. Pat Robertson's espousal of Tucker's cause, the Independent said, "Let us hope that more and more Americans will come to realise that, if it is wrong to execute her because she is a God-fearing woman, then it is wrong to execute anybody." The Italian newspapers all prominently reported a letter to Gov. George Bush of Texas from Pope John Paul II asking for "a gesture of clemency that would contribute to the creation of a culture more favorable to respect for life."

As Prince Charles arrived Monday in Sri Lanka for an official visit marking the 50th anniversary of its independence from Britain, he was reported to be considering canceling a plan to confer a knighthood there on the expatriate British writer Arthur C. Clarke (2001: A Space Odyssey) following a front-page story in the London Sunday Mirror reporting claims that Clarke had paid for sex with young boys. In the Times of London Monday, Clarke was quoted as saying, "There is no truth whatsoever in the allegations that the SundayMirror are making against me, and they are very hurtful." But the newspaper reported that British diplomats were seeking a formal, categorical denial of the allegation by Clarke if the investiture ceremony was to go ahead at the British High Commission in Colombo Wednesday.