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Europe

European Press Review: The Fog is Lifting on Iraq

European newspapers examined the new Iraqi council and its prospects for maintaining peace in the country as well as transatlantic relations and the Middle East.

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The key test for the members of the new Iraqi Governing Council is how they respond to violence.

London’s The Times wrote "the key test for the new Iraqi council will be how it responds to the violence still plaguing the country." If, however, Iraqis put their support behind the council, the paper suggested "desperate Baathists will inevitably resort to more violent acts to disrupt the process." Iraq is stuck between a minority seeking to create chaos and a majority hopefully seeking a prosperous future the paper concluded.

"The fog surrounding the future of Iraq, has hardly dissipated with the new governing council," commented Switzerland’s Neue Zürcher Zeitung. Above all, no one knows what the United States means when it says its troops will stay in Iraq "as long as necessary." If the Americans are really serious about setting up a representative government they can transfer responsibility to, then the new council represents a workable basis, the paper noted. But it warned, "if the real goal is to pursue the unrealistic dream of establishing a pro-American model state for in the Middle East, then tensions between Iraqis and their occupiers will likely worsen."

European papers took the occasion of German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer’s visit to the Washington as an opportunity to examine German-U.S. relations in the past year, especially in the aftermath of the U.S.-led war on Iraq, which Germany opposed.

In the context of Fischer’s visit to the U.S., the Berliner Zeitung turned to the current controvery surrounding the U.S. justification for leading a war against Iraq and pointed out, "the governments in Washington and London, rather than those in Berlin and Paris, are today finding it most difficult to justify their actions." The paper recalled that during Fischer’s visit last year the foreign minister was snubbed by what the paper referred to as "the main strategists of democratic imperialism in the White House." Washington only wants to talk to him now because it needs German and French assistance in Iraq, the paper argued.

"Compared to last October, the ice between Berlin and Washington has slightly thawed," noted Russia’s Nesawissimaja Gaseta. Fischer won’t just be talking to his counterpart Colin Powell – he also plans to see U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney and even U.S. National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice. Berlin is holding its breath, the paper wrote. Chancellor Gerhard Schröder has been warning against too high expectations saying Fischer’s visit should only be seen in the context of "a normal working relationship." But the paper added, many are still hoping that Fischer can pave the way for a final reconciliation between Bush and Schröder, who have not been on speaking terms since the Iraq war.

And in other news, European papers turned to the Middle East and the state of the floundering peace process.

The Financial Times said Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was "flatly wrong" to ask Britain and the European Union to sever all ties with Palestinian leader Yassir Arafat. This is not the way to strengthen the power of Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, the paper wrote. Instead it will probably work against him because Palestinians are more likely to rally behind their veteran leader rather than Abbas who is still seen by some as a "U.S.-Israeli stooge."

The international community is right in supporting the road map to peace, the Dutch paper De Volkskrant commented, while adding that the blueprint for peace diverts attention from the most important issue, namely land. Even though the plan does demand a halt to all Jewish settlements, the settlers know there are ways around that, the paper stated. Instead of securing the land for a Palestinian state, the international spotlight is on internal Palestinian politics, remarked the paper. If both sides want to use the road map to achieve peace, that’s a good thing the Dutch daily said, but if they do not, then international steps have to follow.