NEWS

Clinton to visit Athens on Sunday

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is due in Athens for a two-day visit on Sunday with a packed agenda that is expected to extend beyond the usual contours of Greek-Turkish relations.

Clinton, who is making her first visit to Greece as the United States? foreign policy supremo, will travel from Turkey, where a meeting of the states that make up the Libya Contact Group on Friday formally recognized the country's rebels as its legitimate government.

The Libyan civil war and developments in the Middle East are expected to feature high on the agenda of the Athens talks.

Washington has hailed Greece's contribution to the NATO-backed mission -- particularly the deployment of the Souda Bay military base on Crete.

Apart from President Karolos Papoulias -- who is just back from a delicate visit to Israel and Palestinian-controlled territory -- Clinton will also meet with Prime Minister George Papandreou, Foreign Minister Stavros Lambrinidis and Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos.

Greece's debt crisis, as the scheduled contact with Venizelos suggests, will also be high on the agenda. Athens, which received some indirect words of encouragement from US President Barack Obama following a G8 summit in France in May, would welcome a similar statement from Clinton. On Monday, she is set to meet with New Democracy leader Antonis Samaras.

In her meeting with Papandreou and Lambrinidis, Clinton is expected to discuss Greece's persistent foreign policy thorns, i.e. relations with Turkey and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM).

While Turkish ties are in better shape than in the past, the same cannot be said about Athens's dispute with Skopje over the official name of its smaller neighbor in the northwest. Skopje recently antagonized Athens by erecting a huge bronze statue of Alexander the Great. Another statue, this time of the ancient warrior?s father, Philip II of Macedon, has been planned.

In a related development, Papandreou on Friday invited Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin to visit Greece. Reports said the two leaders, who spoke on the telephone, discussed the Burgas-Alexandroupoli oil pipeline project and other Russian investment plans.

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