‘Not right to leave USA on its own’

Hungarian Prime Minister Peter Medgyessy’s presence in Athens at the time that his joint statement with seven other European leaders was released expressing support for the USA was not a pleasant surprise for his host Prime Minister Costas Simitis. In this interview with Kathimerini, Medgyessy reveals the background to the controversial article and clarifies his government’s position on the Iraq crisis and on the future of the European Union. Who took the initiative for the article? The British approached me and I must say that I gave it considerable thought before I decided to sign. Under no circumstances did I want to give the impression that the distance between the two different views (on the issue of Iraq) had increased. I asked for certain corrections to the original text, which were accepted by the British and the Spaniards and which were aimed at supporting the view that Europe needed to rally together on this issue and that it was not right to leave the USA on its own. That would not be good either for the USA or for Europe. I also insisted that UN Security Council Resolution 1441 should be implemented, that a peaceful solution should be sought, but that there was a real danger that Iraq’s unpredictable regime was in possession of weapons of mass destruction. Then other countries followed – Portugal, Denmark, Poland and the Czech Republic. The EU’s foreign ministers debated and arrived at a joint position on Iraq. Why did you feel the need for a move outside the EU that splits European cohesion? Three of the countries who signed the text are not yet members of the EU, so they do not have the institutional organs for expressing their views. We are in favor of a common foreign policy and civil security for Europe and we believe that our declaration can help in this direction. If you look at the substance of our text – something which journalists rarely do – you will see there is nothing that could not be signed by France or Germany. I personally paid particular attention to this issue. Is it not a justification of Rumsfeld’s view that France and Germany represent the «old Europe» and that the «new Europe» has shifted eastward, where the majority of states are pro-American? I think that the «old Europe» is also pro-American, after all, that is why the transatlantic alliance was created. In the statement by the eight, there are representatives of both the «new» and the «old» Europe. According to recent reports, the Americans are secretly training 3,000 Iraqis who oppose the regime at a Hungarian base. Hungarian officials’ statements on the issue have been extremely conflicting. What is the truth? Before I answer that, I have to make a distinction. For us, the question of Iraq is not a question of relations with the USA, but one of dealing with a real risk to international security. We believe that the Americans should show whatever proof they have of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction to the Security Council. If the existence of these weapons is proved and if Iraq does not agree to disarm, then the Security Council should pass another resolution. This is our view. It is very clear, and is midway between the American and the Franco-German view. But to come back to your question, the Americans had actually put such a request to my government. These are people of Iraqi origin who belong to the American army administration. They are not being trained to take part in a possible war, but for administrative duties at the end of such a war. There will be fewer than 3,000 people, which is the ceiling we had originally set. We believe that in this way we have fulfilled our obligations as members of NATO and I do not intend to undertake any more commitments, perhaps apart from making our air space available, if necessary. But I still hope for a peaceful solution and expect a great deal from the proposal to be submitted by (UN chief weapons inspector) Hans Blix, in the hope of a mutually acceptable decision. The ‘same priorities’ are shared by Hungary and the Greek presidency What does Hungary expect from the Greek EU presidency and from bilateral relations with Greece? I am very satisfied with Mr Simitis’s statement that we we will soon have in our hands the official document of accession for the new member states and the fact that there will not be any new elements in that document. That is only right. Mr Simitis’s speech and his government’s efforts are a guarantee for us. During the six months of the Greek presidency, the work of the Constitutional Assembly (on the institutional reform of an enlarged EU) will be completed and work will begin on the Intergovernmental Conference. That gives the Greek presidency additional importance. The priorities of the Greek presidency are the same as ours. For example, let’s take the question of illegal immigration. Both Greece and Hungary have extensive borders with third countries, so it is very important that we find an appropriate solution providing for an equal distribution between all member states of the burden of dealing with the problem. As for bilateral relations, I believe that our accession to the EU alone will result in an upgrade. Today I had a working lunch with 35 business owners, two-thirds of whom were Greeks who have either already entered the Hungarian market or who want to work with us. We have the possibility of working together in third markets, where we can exploit the complementary nature of the Greek and Hungarian economies. In brief, we are looking forward to a new spurt in relations between our two countries. This is the conviction of President Costis Stephanopoulos and Parliament Speaker Apostolos Kaklamanis, with whom I met during my visit here.