NEWS

All diplomatic fronts require solutions

The government cannot expect an easy ride in 2002 because it will have to tackle problems left unresolved for the past two years. All the major foreign affairs issues – in particular, Greek-Turkish relations and the Cyprus question – are still outstanding and ripe for new developments this year. On January 10, Prime Minister Costas Simitis will meet in Washington with US President George Bush, who is eager to see progress on Turkish participation in the European defense force, Greek-Turkish relations and the Cyprus talks, which are due to start six days later. Simitis can expect advice and pressure from Bush on all three issues. The Greek premier has gone as far as he can with his revised policy toward Ankara, which grew out of a personal meeting with former US President Bill Clinton in 1996, and in late 2001, the Turkish leadership adopted an aggressive new policy toward Athens on the question of the Aegean, while sticking to its hard line on Cyprus. What makes matters more difficult for Greece is that Washington is being more supportive of Turkey’s views on the continental shelf and has for the first time adopted Ankara’s view that the Dodecanese should be demilitarized. This is not the time to rock the boat or to indulge in the hope that Ankara will return to the positive climate that reigned in bilateral relations two years ago. No matter how much Greece’s moderate Foreign Minister George Papandreou tries to convince the public that rapprochement with Turkey continues, everyone in the government recognizes the truth of Defense Minister Yiannos Papantoniou’s statement a few days ago that «a new period of tension is beginning» with Turkey. Other issues In 2002, Simitis also has to decide what to do about the European defense force, Turkey’s demands on the Aegean, what viable solution to support with Cyprus, what to do if Cyprus’s EU accession is undermined, and how to deal with the responses by Greece’s partners – chiefly the USA – to Greek policy. And the government has to make a decision on the name of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, an issue that Washington wants resolved quickly. This is the first time since 1996 that Simitis has had to deal with all these problems simultaneously, as well as the USA being insistent that speedy solutions be found for problems in a region where Turkey is Washington’s favorite. So it will be a tough ride in 2002, with more aggressive policies needed, however unpleasant that may be to the government’s supporters of moderate foreign policy. This will likely be the climate for PASOK’s June conference which will discuss any changes in the party’s charter. The conference is highly significant because it will address whether the party leader is to be chosen in future by all party members (as proposed by Foreign Minister George Papandreou) instead of by the party congress, as is the case now. This crucial vote will also decide, to a large extent, the question of succession to the party leadership.