NEWS

PM resolutely neutral

In a parliamentary debate today, Greek MPs from all parties are expected to put pressure on the government to come out clearly against the US-led war in Iraq and in favor of a proposal by Belgium, France and Germany for a strengthening of military cooperation as a first step toward European emancipation from its military alliance with the United States. In Brussels yesterday, Prime Minister Costas Simitis, speaking to the European Parliament, refused to be budged from the neutral stance which, he said, his position as the current president of the European Council obliged him to follow. Even when asked about whether the war in Iraq was legitimized by international law, he answered that «some agree, some not» with the point. Many deputies praised Simitis’s stance, which allowed last week’s EU summit to proceed smoothly even if, in the words of some participants, in a «surreal atmosphere.» Others, mostly on the left, criticized Simitis for his decision to pursue discussion on the main item in the summit’s agenda – building a strong European economy – in the midst of a major international crisis. Simitis repeated the argument he made during the summit, that the EU ought to show it was not paralyzed into inaction by the crisis and added that postponing a major discussion about the war was «the only way» to keep the divisions within the EU from deepening. Simitis told MEPs he refused to believe that efforts toward a common European foreign policy had been permanently derailed. EU Commission President Romano Prodi, who spoke after Simitis, warmly welcomed the three countries’ decision for closer defense cooperation and appeared to endorse a total break with NATO. Later last night, Prodi’s aides were busy telling reporters that he didn’t mean that, while NATO sources reacted ironically, calling this a «pie-in-the-sky» vision, The Associated Press reported. Foreign Minister George Papandreou yesterday faced a parliamentary committee in Athens where most speakers competed with each other over who would heap he harshest criticism on the US. Papandreou, heavily criticized for being too close to the US positions, said the war was «wrong» but did not avoid criticism from deputies, mostly former ministers from his own party, who said Greece ought to take the initiative for an immediate ceasefire.