Papantoniou pays visit to Washington

WASHINGTON – Defense Minister Yiannos Papantoniou’s visit to Washington this past week was scheduled three months ago so he could take official delivery of the Greek air force’s new F-16 fighter aircraft. Events have given the visit a far more important dimension that has resulted in an ambitious initiative for an understanding between Washington and Brussels regarding the «day after» in Iraq. The reception given to Papantoniou by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and particularly by National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, with whom he met for an hour, was impressive. In addition, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan informed the Greek minister of the stance the UN would take if it were asked to play a part in Iraq after the war. A number of factors – Greece’s presidency of the EU, the Iraq war, unprecedented tension between the US and the EU, unexpected tension between the US and Turkey, and, on the other hand, Greece’s fulfillment of its obligations to its allies and Washington’s bypassing of the UN regarding the Iraq war – combined to provide Greece with the opportunity to play a role at the center of international politics. Papantoniou is to travel to Paris and Berlin on April 15 to brief Greece’s two main European partners on his talks in Washington regarding the «day after» in Iraq based on an active role for the UN, to provide legitimacy for what will follow. He will also be discussing continued efforts to set up a European army. As for the war itself, the American officials Papantoniou talked to assured him that everything was proceeding as planned. Rice said the only concern was what could happen during battles in the cities. During this interview, no mention was made of the state-of-the-art fighter aircraft to be added to Greece’s air force by the end of 2004, or of the fact that their capability of flying to Cyprus and back might change the balance of air power with Turkey.