Athens seeks its course in EU storm

Prime Minister Costas Simitis and Foreign Minister George Papandreou will meet today to decide what steps Greece can take as president of the EU to try to forge a common position on the divisive issue of Iraq. The meeting comes at a particularly sensitive time, as some of the United States’ most important allies – including France and Germany – oppose its efforts to mobilize an international coalition for swift action against Iraq. Also, France and Belgium said they would block a NATO decision to reinforce Turkey’s defenses by today’s 09.00 GMT deadline. Papandreou will meet with his Austrian counterpart, Benita Ferrero-Waldner, today and will hold video-conferences with Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin of France and Anna Lindh of Sweden. Greek officials had initially considered calling an emergency summit after five EU members and three candidates earlier this month declared their solidarity with the United States without informing most of their partners in the EU. But the idea is believed to have been abandoned and Athens is now considering a meeting of foreign ministers from the 15 EU members, 13 future members and Iraq’s neighbors. Sources within the government say that Simitis’s angry reaction to the declaration by the «eight,» in which he accused them of undermining the EU’s common foreign policy, was a mistake. They also question the wisdom of a statement by the ruling PASOK party’s general secretary, Costas Laliotis, that PASOK will take part in anti-war demonstrations next Saturday.