Published in Nacional number 437, 2004-03-30

Autor: Plamenko Cvitić

NEW WAVE IN MESIĆ'S ARAB STRATEGY

Following Blair's visit to Libya, Mesić insisting on trade with that country

Croatian President Stipe Mesić has decided to establish full economic cooperation with Libya, regardless of all the pressures on Croatia to date concerning this issue

After last week’s meeting between British Premier Tony Blair and Libyan leader Moamer Gadafi, Croatian President Stipe Mesić has decided to establish full economic cooperation with Libya, regardless of all the pressures on Croatia to date concerning this issue. If the government does not accept his request, the president is prepared to enter into a full-scale conflict with the HDZ government and establish cooperation with that country after he was the first Head of State to see the opening of Libya, the changes in its attitude towards terrorism and the fantastic possibilities for economic cooperation. The process which Mesić began three years ago, under great pressure and resistance from the West, primarily the US and Britain, is now being joined by those very countries, which would prefer that Croatia continue to respect the embargo on doing business with Libya, while they themselves push their multinational companies in to take on massive tasks. That is what they have done to date, only those companies were hidden behind companies of third countries.

This week, in a show of resoluteness to begin cooperation with Libya, the overhaul of the Libyan ship “Al Mukaid” will be taken on, after several years of waiting due to strong external pressures and the fearfulness of the Croatian leaders. After this small job, worth $7.5 million, new orders for ship overhauls in the amount of over $120 million are expected.

For several years, the US, France and Britain have been using diplomatic activities to hinder the penetration of Croatian companies onto foreign markets, and instead funnel the prospective jobs to their own companies. The newest example of such conduct of Western countries is Libya. The UN raised international sanctions against Libya in 1992 due to charges that country was aiding international terrorism, and this embargo significantly slowed the development of this wealthy Arab nation. For more than a decade of international isolation, Libya exported its oil and gas, while the possibility of imports and development were reduced to a minimum, and therefore it was no surprise that British Premier Tony Blair visited Libyan leader Moamer Gadafi last week. Visitors before him included the Spanish and Italian Premiers, and it is known that a delegation of American businessmen recently stayed in Tripoli. Of course, last week’s meeting between Blair and Gadafi served to set up business arrangements between the two countries: the British-Dutch oil giant Shell received a job for researching Libya’s rich gas deposits; the largest British arms producer BAE is to sell Libya airplane parts, while in return, Libyan military officers will receive training in Britain. Such an unfolding of events, which shows that politics in the West still serves the economy, is the best counter-argument for all those Croatian critics of the foreign policies of President Mesić, who has always claimed that Croatia should form economic ties to Libya and its leader Gadafi. Furthermore, the Croatian president has been a thorn in the side of the US and Britain over the past few years due to his visits to Libya and other African states, and they were particularly bothered by Mesić’s attempts to bring home new business deals for dozens of Croatian companies from each trip. Today, many European companies are grabbing at opportunities in Libya, after being encouraged by the normalization of relations and the contact of their administrations with Gadafi. The responsibility for the missed or blocked opportunities for Croatian companies lies most with the indecisive and timid policies of Račan’s government, which is today being continued by HDZ. There are many such examples of such behaviour by the Croatian government, and the best known is the overhaul of the Libyan ship “Al Mukaid”.

This is a scientific-research-rescue ship which was built in the Kraljevica shipyard in the 1970s, and is the sister ship of the “Faust Vrančic 2” of the Croatian navy. After virtually thirty years of sailing, the ship requires an overhaul, and that is best conducted in the same shipyard where the ship was built. Although the overhaul has already been agreed to several times, and the ship set sail for the Adriatic, the Croatian Defense and Foreign Ministers would deny their consent for the ship to enter into Croatian waters, under the excuse that Libya is a state under international embargo for protecting international terrorists. After a certain amount of time, information leaked from economic circles that it was actually the US which was preventing that ship from entering Croatian waters, like it was preventing economic ties between Croatia and Libya. As such, the overhaul of the “Al Mukaid” in one of Croatia’s shipyards was uncertain.

A source from the former government has confirmed for Nacional that diplomatic notes from the US were received on several occasions warning Croatia not to cooperate with Libya, as that could “negatively impact our relations”. The most important reason listed by the Americans against any cooperation between Croatia and Libya was always Libya’s alleged support for international terrorism, and as such it was always stressed that Croatia should do absolutely no business with Libya in military and defense related jobs. For the Croatian companies which have been trying to do business with Libya for years, the news of cooperation between Blair and Gadafi, with Libyan officers to be sent to Britain for training, truly sounds tragicomical.

“We were told that we could not cooperation with Libya and we had to reject Libyan-Croatian projects, and today we see that the great world forces are taking those projects out from under our noses,” bitterly stated the head man of a large Croatian company. “The western intelligence services were also involved in blocking Croatian companies, as there were several cases in which the Americans told us that we had to not give our consent on a certain project several days before the official letter was even received from Libya,” added a high ranking official of the former government.

The meddling of US diplomacy in the Croatian economy has continued on following the change in government, and the US Ambassador to Croatia, Ralph Frank, visited President Mesić last January asking Croatia to halt the overhaul of Libyan trade ships in the Trogir shipyard. The Croatian public is already familiar with the case from May 2000, when the Greben shipyard in Vele Luka signed a contract with Iran on the construction of 12 patrol boats worth $12 million. However, politics soon got involved in the deal. “Our Foreign Ministry received a diplomatic note from the US which stated that it was ‘not advisable to realize that deal’, which was a clear message that our shipyard must not take that job, or rather than the contract had to be nullified as Iran is a terrorist base,” the former high ranking official told Nacional. Later events showed that the ban on the Croatian shipyard had absolutely nothing to do with alleged terrorist activities in Iran, as only months later, it was officially released that a French shipyard had signed to build 12 patrol boats for Iran. The result of this case was the bankruptcy of the Greben shipyard, as the Iran order was supposed to secure the workload and save the company, however, due to the interests of foreign companies and their ties to their governments, that did not happen. When the Croatian government learned of the French contract, certain government representatives approached the US, aware that they had been manipulated, and sought compensation for the botched deal. A delegation from the US quickly arrived form the Defense Ministry, Customs and Coast Guard on a so-called “Fact Finding Mission”, which was supposed to have offered the Croatian side alternative work in compensation for the lost work with Iran. Over several days, the US delegation visited several shipyards, and it was even agreed to in principle that there was a possibility that boats be built for the US Coast Guard, however, nothing has come of that.

During that time, the Iranians continued to establish business relations with Croatia, and for a while they were interested in investing in the Viktor Lenac shipyard. For decades, Iran has been constructing a large shipyard at Bandarabas, however, they cannot get it up and running due to the lack of qualified staff. The Iranian side once offered Croatia monetary aid in return for Croatian experts who would get the shipyard in Bandarabas up and running, and the result would be cooperation in which Croatian experts would build ships in two locations: small boats would be built at Bandarabas, while the more complicated work would be done at Viktor Lenac. Of course, due to the blockade by western countries, this idea was also not realized.

Officials of the former government today talk without hesitation on the pressures they were subject to during their four year mandate. “We would constantly receive notes accusing us of aiding terrorism through our business cooperation with the nations of the Near East and Africa, and on several occasions it was made very clear that we, as a young country, were under special watch”, was a comment by a former government official last week. When the issue is shipbuilding, the US side removed all possibilities of Croatian shipyards building any ships or boats for Iran, always on the claims of the dangers of terrorism. “They explained that the Seventh US Fleet was in the Persian Gulf and it was under special danger if any of the Arab countries had fast vessels which, loaded with explosives and sailing at speeds of over 20 knots, would reach the US vessels from the shore in 15 minutes and cause chaos,” stated a source from the Transport Ministry who cynically added, “According to the Americans, the Arabs are allowed to possess only camels.” Not entering into the truthfulness of terrorist threats from the Near East, many believe that the western countries, led by the US, have frequently blocked jobs for Croatian companies without a valid reason, or rather, have abused the threat of terrorism to benefit their own companies.

Another good example of this is Syria. Our oil company recently achieved great success in Syria, as its researchers succeeded in finding a commercial oil sight in one of its blocks. This is the Hayan block of 9 drill sites in central Syria, and this concession for research and drilling was formerly held by an American oil company which withdrew from the block after not finding any oil. Lead by the results of its measurements, INA bought the concession for the block, convinced that there was oil. When it turned out that the INA experts were right in their measurements and that they had struck a massive oil well, the Americans tried to again gain the rights to the block, which is legally impossible as they left it on their own accord, and INA’s concession contract for the next 20 years was ratified by the Syrian Parliament. Success on the Hayan block pushed INA to continue research on the block just northwest of Hayan, which is obviously bothering the Americans, who would prefer to be the exclusive operators and concession holders on the rich Syria oilfields. Even now there is diplomatic talk that such closeness between Syria and Croatia is not advisable. However, after last week’s visit by Blair to Libya and the signing of several hundreds of millions of dollars worth of contracts, the Croatian government truly has nothing left to fear.

Though Ambassador Franks visited President Mesić last week and allegedly gave him support for his “Arab campaign”, the US is still angry with the Croatian president, whom they see as a blockade in the Americanization of Croatia. This was evident in the last week by one of the leaders of the American administration responsible for this region who said that “they would not be too upset if Mesić lost the next presidential elections”. They still cannot forget that he openly countered the US policy on Iraq and his famous speech last year at the opening of the US Embassy outside of Zagreb, where he spoke very critically on the need to include the UN in the whole Iraqi operation, as well as the wrong turn US policy had taken. Today, it is evident that he was right. At the time, the victim was Tomislav Jakić, who wrote the speech on Mesić’s guidelines. However, that speech so irritated Račan that he had to ask Mesić to get rid of Jakić in order to maintain good relations with the US. Today, it is clear that that was a bad decision.

We know that the US is and will remain the firm centre of the free world. Therefore we known that it is not possible that the US would even consider punishing their friends for staying true to the basic assumptions of international relations, the assumptions of the freedom of the individual and nations and their complete equality.

We know that that US has played an irreplaceable role in the formation of the United Nations, and that they are most responsible for the fact that this organization has survived in times and conditions which were anything but favourable.

Therefore, we can reject any idea that the US itself would even consider pushing the world organization to the sidelines, or that it would not give it its support, which would in fact make its continuance questionable.

Croatia sees its place in the world in the circle of democratic countries, in the ranks of the global anti-terrorist coalition, in the United Nations and soon in the European Union and Atlantic Pact. We have not lead our foreign policy, nor shall we, reliant on one country or group of countries now and another later.

Upon the same principles, we would like to have equally good relations with all countries, large and small, strong and weak.

We are aware both that we belong to Europe and that we are globally inclined.

We of course are aware of the specific role and place of the United States in the world in which we live. Therefore, it is perfectly clear that one of our priorities is to continue our foreign policy and to expand our good and even alliance relations with the United States. However, we are an independent, sovereign country. And until we hand over a part of our soveriengty to the European Union by our own free will, we will make our decisions ourselves, keeping most in mind the interests and benefits of our citizens – not only in the short-term, but also in the long-term.

We will always be prepared to hear others out, but we expect that others will have an ear for us. Knowing the history of the United States, we are certain that they will best understand this position and will know how to respect a Croatia which thinks with its own head much more than a Croatia which is reduced to no more than someone’s servant.

I would like to take this opportunity to give President George Bush and the American people a warm and friendly greeting.

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