NEWS

Greece favors common Union defense but no break with US

Greece endorses the idea of a European Union summit on defense but said that any move toward closer cooperation among the 15 union members must involve dialogue with the United States, the government spokesman said yesterday. Asked about the move by Belgium, France, Germany and Luxembourg demanding closer integration of defense policies with the ultimate goal of forging a European defense policy distinctive from that of the United States, Press Minister Christos Protopappas called the proposal «strategically correct» but repeated the point raised by Prime Minister Costas Simitis at a parliamentary debate on Thursday that the four cannot create a «hard core» of countries cooperating more closely on defense and that a common defense policy must involve every EU member. «There are current and future EU states that… connect their defense policy to that of the United States. There are other views, and I do not hide the fact that these are closer to our own that want… a European defense policy and strategy,» Protopappas said, adding that «our initiatives must unify and increase the number of those sharing our view, not widen existing fissures.» While the war in Iraq has led to an unprecedented crisis in relations between the USA and certain European countries, Greece has tried not to antagonize the Americans. Defense Minister Yiannos Papantoniou leaves today for a visit to the United States; on Tuesday, he will meet with Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice. Yesterday, opposition leader Costas Karamanlis met with French President Jacques Chirac in Paris. In Athens, Foreign Minister George Papandreou talked about humanitarian assistance to Iraq with representatives of Latin American countries. Greece has already prepared assistance programs, Deputy Foreign Minister Andreas Loverdos said yesterday.