NATO stays in Larissa

Greece lost a sub-regional command center but managed to hold on to a smaller facility in NATO’s major restructuring yesterday that led to a 40 percent reduction in the alliance’s bases. An air command center at Izmir, Turkey, under an American commander, will outrank the Combined Air Operations Center (CAOC) that is to remain at Larissa and will answer to Izmir. A Joint Sub-Regional Command, also in Larissa, will close down. Yesterday’s decisions also envisage a NATO Maritime Interdiction Operational Training Center in Greece, which will be responsible for organizing and carrying out anti-terrorism operations in the Mediterranean, Defense Minister Yiannos Papantoniou said after the meeting in Brussels. «The final result satisfies our national interests fully,» he told reporters. «The 26 command centers are being reduced to 16. So it is natural that NATO’s presence is limited with regard to each country individually. With the new command structure, there will be command centers in only 10 of 26 members of NATO,» Papantoniou said. He stressed that Greece had been in danger of losing all NATO command centers. He and Foreign Minister George Papandreou had lobbied hard in recent weeks to avoid such an outcome. «The original proposal for the restructuring of command centers excluded Greece completely. We started the debate from a negative point,» he said. «We used all the negotiating tools at our disposal, through discussions at various levels and with high-level visits of government representatives to Brussels and the United States.» Regarding the CAOC at Larissa, Papantoniou said: «It will have a Greek commander, double the personnel, and more than double the geographical jurisdiction. Because, of the five CAOCs in NATO’s southern flank only two remain. Of these two, one is Greek and will be responsible for a much wider geographic region than it is today.» Papantoniou said that issues such as the location and funding of the new maritime center in Greece were still to be worked out. Souda Bay on Crete, however, is a likely candidate to host it. New Democracy’s defense spokesman, Spilios Spiliotopoulos, said: «Today the defense minister gave up our country’s basic rights and responsibilities with regard to operational control of the Aegean during NATO air and sea operations in the Athens FIR, to the benefit of Turkey. And this he calls a success.»