NEWS

PASOK, ND see eye to eye on Iraq war

Greece’s two largest parties yesterday found themselves in almost complete agreement at yesterday’s debate over the war in Iraq and the role of the European Union. Despite indulging in some mild criticism, New Democracy leader Costas Karamanlis agreed with Prime Minister Costas Simitis’s handling of the issue within the framework of the EU, agreeing that Greece should look after its own interests, avoid antagonizing the USA and support efforts toward closer European integration on defense and foreign policy matters. Both parties came under fire from the left-wing opposition for being closet US supporters and there was grumbling from some deputies of the ruling socialist PASOK party about Simitis’s handling of the issue at the EU summit last week. Otherwise, yesterday’s parliamentary debate was a rare one in which some kind of consensus emerged and, after it was over, MPs of the two major parties congratulated each other on the tone of the debate. Simitis explained in detail his actions as the current president of the European Union, saying that he could do no more than seek a consensus between widely divergent views. «The main role of the presidency is to protect what the EU, correctly, considers as very important: a common position and common effort. (The presidency) cannot create new fissures among members, but must strive for a consensus,» Simitis said. At the Brussels summit, the 15 EU members avoided any debate on the war, preferring to focus on the day after and affirm the United Nations’ right to direct postwar efforts toward Iraq’s reconstruction. Simitis rejected the viewpoint expressed by some PASOK MPs that he should have taken the initiative to call for an immediate ceasefire at the United Nations. He said that he had no mandate from his fellow EU leaders and that Italy, which will succeed Greece in the rotating six-month presidency of the EU, is a supporter of the war. A rash decision to take the initiative unilaterally, he said, would weaken not only the EU itself but also undermine the role of smaller states within the EU. Simitis denied that Greece is actively participating in the war. «Our policy is a policy of peace,» he said, adding that Greece had been asked but refused to join the «coalition of the willing» taking part in the war. But, despite expressing his «sadness» at Iraqi civilian casualties, Simitis refrained from an outright condemnation of the war. Karamanlis accused the government of «double speak» referring to its simultaneous cooperation with the USA and the call by PASOK General Secretary Costas Laliotis in favor of anti-war demonstrations. «The government is performing a high-wire act,» he said, asking Simitis to come out clearly in favor of a move by Belgium, France and Germany toward closer defense cooperation. Communist Party General Secretary Aleka Papariga countered that Greece is an active participant in the war and that Simitis «lacks the courage to acknowledge it. «You would follow the same policy whether you held the EU presidency or not. Mr Karamanlis would also follow the same policy were he in your place,» Papariga said. Left Coalition leader Nikos Constantopoulos said the government had exhibited a «lack of courage, double speak, low cunning and compliance with the USA,» using its role as EU president as an excuse.