NEWS

Greece tries to salvage EU summit

The government is walking a tightrope in its attempt to salvage the EU Spring Summit, which begins in Brussels late today, from becoming a messy failure as a result of the imminent war in Iraq. On the home front, it announced yesterday further security measures to guard against terrorist attacks. The European Union, whose rotating six-month presidency Greece holds, has been reduced to the role of an impotent bystander in the war. A few member states have chosen to join the US-led «coalition of the willing,» which is poised to fight the war without United Nations authorization; with the exception of Great Britain, their role will be a minor one. Simitis and Foreign Minister George Papandreou will try to steer the summit towards discussing postwar developments and the need for active EU participation in the reconstruction of the country, including humanitarian aid, financial aid for projects, and help to repatriate the expected hundreds of thousands of refugees. Talking about the recent developments would only expose the deep rifts within the EU, as relations between some members, especially France and Britain, have soured further over the past few days. Yesterday, Simitis arrived in Brussels, where he met with European Commission president Romano Prodi, EU Foreign and Security Policy High Representative Javier Solana and European Parliament President Pat Cox. He also had a long telephone conversation with French President Jacques Chirac. Although Simitis appears to agree mainly with the objections to war raised notably by France and Germany, he has been far more cautious publicly, reflecting Greece’s desire not to displease the US. In Athens, during a parliamentary debate over the setup of a bipartisan National Foreign Policy Council, New Democracy MP Michalis Liapis criticized the government’s lack of a clear position «since the foreign minister has a clear pro-Atlantic position, deviating from the majority European position, the defense minister (Yiannos Papantoniou) accepts the positions of the Franco-German axis and the prime minister tries to balance the two views.» Despite Liapis’s criticism, this is exactly the line taken by his party, while left-wing opposition parties and organizations vocally oppose the war and have taken the lead in organizing anti-war demonstrations. The latest one, by the Greek Social Forum, was a candlelight protest vigil starting at midnight last night and lasting until 3 a.m., approximately the time when US president George Bush’s ultimatum to Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein to leave the country or face war expired. Yesterday, the government completed the deployment of police, army and coast guard forces to guard buildings, offices, embassies, ports and airports considered vulnerable to a terrorist attack. The National Intelligence Service (EYP) is watching for possible moves by migrant smugglers; Greece estimates that at least 200,000 Iraqis fleeing war may attempt to cross into the country from Turkey in the next two months. EYP and the police are also closely watching some 200 permanent Arab residents suspected of possible links with terrorist networks.