NEWS

NATO’s Olympic shield

After months of debate and delays, Athens yesterday formally asked NATO to help provide security for the Athens Olympics. In doing so, the new conservative government will take advantage of one of the basic rights it has as a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. The opposition PASOK party agreed with the invitation for assistance. The Communist Party condemned it. «Completing the procedure that had already begun, the government today asked the Atlantic alliance to contribute to the security of the Olympic Games, mainly in the fields of aerial alert, the joint monitoring of the seas and protection from chemical, biological and radiological incidents,» Foreign Ministry spokesman Giorgos Koumoutsakos said. This will involve the use of four AWACS early-warning planes, a Czech unit specialized in dealing with nuclear, biological and chemical warfare, while NATO’s permanent standing naval force in the Mediterranean will be supported by units from other NATO members’ navies, probably under a Greek commander. Further possibilities of NATO assistance will be examined in the near future. Foreign Minister Petros Molyviatis met yesterday with US Ambassador Thomas Miller and discussed Olympic security and the Cyprus issue. «I am now spending more of my time on Olympic security than any other single issue,» Miller told reporters. «I think cooperation is excellent. I look forward to that cooperation continuing with the new government.» A major Greek-US security exercise is currently under way, under a news blackout. Greek security officials are following the investigations into the bomb blasts that killed at least 199 people in Madrid on Thursday. They say that if the Al Qaeda network turns out to be behind the atrocity, it will be the group’s first attack in Europe, with all that this entails. Yesterday, Rear Admiral Christos Delimichalis, the head of the Greek coast guard, announced extra security measures at all the country’s ports and other areas under coast guard jurisdiction. Security on the railways was stepped up on Thursday. Security officials are laying emphasis on denying terrorist groups the capability to act. The PASOK government had begun preparations to request NATO’s involvement in Olympic security but had not made an official request, ostensibly for fear of protests ahead of the elections.