Greece’s image boosted

It’s business as usual in New York these days, even though the operation to «free Iraq,» as the media are calling it, is the top story in the news, but the apparent calm is the result of a concerted effort by the authorities. As the State Department issues warnings of how to be prepared for terrorist attacks, the state and city of New York have things well under control. But room rates at even the most expensive hotels are down by as much as 50 percent for customers who can drive a hard bargain and the city’s sights are fairly deserted. People willing to travel from other countries to come and see the Statue of Liberty are in for a disappointment, as it is no longer possible to go to the top, circled by helicopters on a 24-hour basis, and other aircraft scan Central Park throughout the night for anything that moves. However, seats at Carnegie Hall are still hard to find and the turnout for the Greek Independence Day parade attracted as many people as ever, including city authorities. Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the Governor George Pataki had phoned the Greek Consul to say that while there had been plans to cancel the parade, it would go ahead as scheduled on the Sunday afternoon so as not to send out a message of fear. «If you Greeks back down, then what will everyone else do?» Bloomberg said. The Plaza and Pierre hotels on the corner of Central Park and Fifth Avenue were decked with huge Greek flags, not only in gratitude for upholding a tradition in such difficult times, but as an indication of the positive regard for Greece, encountered for the first time in many decades. The message that has got through to New York from Athens is not the politically correct rhetoric of «We are providing no facilities, we are just doing what is set out in the treaties.» What is getting through is the reality – that Greece has helped further the US’s plans as much as possible, in contrast with the stance taken by Turkey, which is undoubtedly going through its own period of suspicion and bad feeling toward the US. Although no one can yet foresee the repercussions, there will be repercussions, and it is very likely that the US will look to Ankara for a scapegoat if the war is seriously drawn out or suffers major losses in human lives. What is important is that Greece is being regarded more positively than ever, a development that should not go unexploited, particularly in view of plans for the «day after» in Iraq, which will have repercussions for the entire region. So the current visit by Defense Minister Yiannos Papantoniou to take delivery of the air force’s new F-16s, is of considerable interest, particularly his meeting with his US counterpart, Donald Rumsfeld, and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice. Despite the impression that the visit is important because Papantoniou is current head of the European Council of defense ministers, it is much more important at a bilateral level, as long as he touches on substantial matters and if the visit is not restricted to the agenda and the rhetoric imposed by the media. For Greece, this is a unique opportunity.