Greek defense minister heads to USA after controversy

Defense Minister Panos Kammenos heads to New York this weekend for Greek Independence Day celebrations after finding himself at the center of a controversy that led to the US Congress failing to pass a resolution commemorating the start of Greece’s revolt against Ottoman rulers for the first time in 30 years.

The Senate had passed the mostly ceremonial resolution for 29 years in a row before this year, when the Republican senator for Indiana, Dan Coats, blocked the process. Coats said he objected to recent quotes made by Kammenos, who threatened to allow irregular migrants to travel to other European countries if Greece’s lenders punish the country.

“If they deal a blow to Greece, then they should know the migrants will get papers to go to Berlin,” Kammenos said earlier this month. “If Europe leaves us in the crisis, we will flood it with migrants, and it will be even worse for Berlin if in that wave of millions of economic migrants there will be some jihadists of the Islamic State too.”

According to reports, Coats demanded an official statement from Greece that Kammenos’s statement did not constitute official government policy so he could allow the resolution. Greece’s ambassador in Washington, Christos Panagopoulos, tried to speak to the senator but was unable to.

“The ambassador repeatedly tried to communicate with him but Mr Coats was not available,” said the embassy’s press officer, Christos Failidis, who did not rule out the possibility of the ambassador writing to the senator.

The National Coordinated Effort of Hellenes, a Washington-based Greek-American lobbying group, also called on its members to express their dissatisfaction with Coats’s decision.

“Greece is one of only seven countries in the world that has been our ally in every international conflict in the 20th century – it has always come to our rescue,” said the organization’s head, Andrew Manatos. “If, given the dangerously desperate and volatile economic situation in Greece today, Coats’s grandstanding moves Greece toward doing what virtually all other countries, except for Greece, have done – not always supporting America and its troops – Coats’s legacy will have played a tragic role.”

After his visit to New York this weekend, Kammenos is due to return to the USA on May 21 for a meeting with Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter.

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