NEWS

US military buildup involves Greece

US military aircraft flying eastward as part of the massive buildup of forces preparing for the war against international terrorism have been flying through Greek airspace since Saturday, officials said yesterday. The US naval base at Souda Bay on Crete has also begun to show increased activity. By yesterday afternoon, more than 20 fighter planes, transports and spy planes had passed through Greek airspace on their way to bases in Turkey or in Arab countries. The Foreign Ministry in Athens granted permission for this after a request from the US Embassy, said government spokesman Dimitris Reppas. It is self-evident and natural and expected of us to grant our permission for areas and for facilities whose use may lead to the achievement of the desired target, he said. Greece will respond to its obligations as a member of NATO and the European Union, he said. In the past 24 hours, the Souda Bay base has been busy and is in a state of great preparedness. A frigate, two freighters and a submarine on their way to the Persian Gulf have all arrived at the base. The government, however, has been waiting for the United States to make specific requests, or to pass on any information, before deciding what action it will take and to what extent it will participate in the military operations. There has not even been any information forthcoming via NATO as to what the United States may be planning. Prime Minister Costas Simitis met with top aides yesterday to discuss the issue and officials voiced concern over the information vacuum. They noted that it was most likely that Washington’s retaliation for the September 11 attacks would be targeted, as EU leaders called for at their emergency summit last Friday. Simitis is expected to call a meeting of the Government Council on Foreign Policy and Defense (KYSEA) during the week if there are any developments. Meeting with visiting German journalists yesterday, he stressed, With our European partners and with our NATO allies we are determined to defend our convictions and our way of life, which is the expression of the principles on which our civilization is based. Defense Minister Akis Tsochadzopoulos said he expected developments soon. We cannot determine anything yet. Discussions are taking place at the level of the European Union and NATO as to the way in which this cooperation will be carried out. And we are also discussing things with the United States on a bilateral level. These things will clear up in the next few days, he said. Despite the information blackout, members of the Greek general staff believe that Greece’s participation will be similar to that of the Gulf War a decade ago. This view holds that Greece will be asked to provide air corridors in the Athens Flight Information Region for warplanes on their way to bomb terrorist bases, for their mid-air refueling, the activation of the Souda Bay base for warships needing refueling, parking facilities for warplanes, and Greece’s participation in naval operations such as patrols. Greece will support the joint policy of confronting terrorism, said Tsochadzopoulos, who visited Souda Bay on Sunday. We will move within the framework agreed upon by the European countries and the framework of our alliances. IOC team to focus on Olympics security Security issues will top the agenda of the meetings between Greek officials and International Olympic Committee officials arriving in Athens today. Newly-elected IOC president Jacques Rogge, Denis Oswald, his successor as head of the IOC’s Coordination Commission overseeing the preparations for the 2004 Athens Olympics, and 44 commission members arrive late today for three days of talks with ministers, other government officials and Athens 2004, the Games’ organizers. Rogge and commission officials will also conduct detailed inspections of Olympic venues, whose construction has fallen behind schedule. Rogge and Oswald will meet with Prime Minister Costas Simitis tomorrow. It is very important, especially at this juncture, to show that we are forging ahead, a top government official told Kathimerini. It is important for our image both at home and abroad. At home, because the Olympics and their preparation are a plus for the government, and abroad, because we want international public opinion to know we are doing everything we can for the Games’s safety. In the past, the IOC has praised Greece’s $600 million security plan. However, the terrorist attacks against New York and Washington on September 11, have led Rogge to declare that the previous blueprint must be heavily revised. It is widely expected that the Athens Games’ security budget will be increased and that additional measures will include a ban on flights over the venues for the duration of the Games. Government officials are scrambling to show that real progress on venue construction has been made. Sports Minister Giorgos Floridis is giving a press conference today to convince members of a skeptical press that there has been progress in the projects under his watch.