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Bush's Speech Gets a Mixed Review Abroad

Reaction: Some find comfort in the toned-down rhetoric. But in the Arab world, there's a conspicuous lack of official response.

October 09, 2002|TYLER MARSHALL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

UNITED NATIONS — An anxious world reacted with both cautious hope and disappointment Tuesday to President Bush's address about a possible war with Iraq, finding comfort in indications he is committed to a U.N. process that might head off an attack but worried about the absence of new initiatives.

In the Arab world, a region that many predict could descend into turmoil if there is a war in Iraq, reaction was conspicuously muted. Bush's speech late Monday drew a dearth of official reactions and only passing attention of political observers.

"This is a repeated kind of speech or rhetoric that we have been hearing daily from the president himself or his administration," said former Jordanian Prime Minister Taher Masri.

However, in key European capitals and at the United Nations, there was relief that Bush avoided the aggressive rhetoric heard last month from some senior administration officials, who called for unilateral military action against Iraq's Saddam Hussein and dismissed the return of U.N. weapons inspectors as a waste of time.

Many believed that both in tone and content, Bush's speech seemed to signal a willingness to work with the other four permanent members of the U.N. Security Council--Britain, France, Russia and China--for a strongly worded resolution demanding that Hussein give up any weapons of mass destruction.

Diplomats said they also were encouraged that Bush stressed the goal of disarmament rather than regime change in Iraq and declared that war was neither imminent nor inevitable.

"It sounded like the State Department had done a lot of work," summed up a diplomat from a Security Council member country, referring to differences within the administration on how best to confront Hussein.

In the Persian Gulf state of Qatar, those who wanted to watch the speech live had to stay up until the predawn hours Tuesday.

"They were sitting, waiting until 4 o'clock, to see what the man was going to say, but he did not say anything new," said Mohammed Saleh Musfir, a political science professor at Qatar University. The speech, Musfir said, "will not persuade anybody to support his campaign against Iraq. I think this is a minus in his campaign, not a plus."

The White House had dampened speculation domestically that Bush's speech would break new ground, but that message appeared not to have lessened expectations overseas. Afterward, many said they saw the speech as directed mainly at the American public and members of Congress.

Predictably, the sharpest reaction from the region came from Baghdad, where Reuters news agency quoted two senior members of the Iraqi parliament attacking the speech. One of them, Abdul Azis Kailani, denounced Bush's address as "full of lies and ... unreasonable arguments." He described Bush as "just like a beast which wants to eat small countries."

Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher issued one of the few official statements in the Middle East, saying, "George Bush has a desire to settle the Iraqi issue by peaceful ways."

He expressed hope that U.N. inspectors would return to Iraq as soon as possible.

The statement reflected Egypt's delicate position. The country is a major recipient of U.S. aid, but its people are strongly opposed to American intervention in Iraq. Other Arab countries in the region feel a similar squeeze, realizing they have little choice other than to support the United States in the confrontation if they want to share in postwar spoils, but knowing that the popular sentiments of their people are with Iraq.

Wahid Abdel Megid, a political analyst at Cairo's state-sponsored Al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, said many Egyptians interpreted the speech as closing the final door to peace.

However, he said, "I think there is still a chance to avoid the war if the Iraqi regime can change its behavior and its attitude toward the crisis, so ... the matter is dependent on the Iraqi regime more than on the American administration."

In Europe, leaders of some smaller nations were especially encouraged that Bush said he would continue to press for U.N. backing.

"From the perspective of a small state, it is very important that the U.N. keep its role--with all the imperfections that it has--and that questions of war and peace be decided by the U.N.," said Predrag Simic, foreign policy advisor to Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica.

Praise also came from officials of France. Leaders of the center-right government welcomed Bush's emphasis on disarmament, saying they saw encouraging signs in his speech that the U.S. and France are converging on the need for U.N. inspections and multilateral action.

"If I read President Bush's statements correctly, he asserted that a military intervention is neither imminent nor inevitable," said Alain Juppe, leader of France's ruling coalition, the Union for a Presidential Majority. "He talked about coalition, about action with allies, and he recalled that the objective is the disarmament of Iraq.... That's exactly what we advocate."

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