Athens stalls EU force

BRUSSELS – EU foreign ministers yesterday failed to ease Greek concerns over a compromise that would allow the EU’s nascent defense force to use NATO assets without Turkish objections, leaving the issue for the Laeken summit later this week, or even later. Foreign Minister George Papandreou asked his colleagues to adopt for all countries the British plan whereby Ankara has the right to veto the European army’s use of NATO assets in missions in the Aegean and Cyprus. In effect, this clause prevents the EU force from being used in the case of a Greek-Turkish dispute. Realizing that it is no longer politically feasible to erase the British proposal completely, Papandreou suggested that this guarantee not be limited to Turkey, the Aegean or Cyprus. It must apply to all sides and all circumstances, he said. In other words, it should cover at least all countries that, like Turkey, belong to NATO but not to the EU. But this suggestion was not adopted by Greece’s partners. Britain, Germany, Spain, the Netherlands and Portugal asked Papandreou directly to accept the British plan as it stands, while the other countries kept quiet. Facing the deadlock, it was agreed to leave the issue for the summit meeting on Friday, with intensive negotiations being planned between Greece and its partners in the meantime. If no solution is found at Laeken, there are only two alternatives – both of which will lead to the negotiations continuing in 2002. One is to announce the force’s operational readiness while the issue of cooperation with NATO remains unsolved. But with the Netherlands threatening to veto such a development, the announcement of the force’s operational readiness might be left for a later summit. [French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine said, Greece has problems (with the proposal), but it is not clear that it will block agreement, The Associated Press reported. We’re open to finding a solution for Laeken, said Papandreou. If these concerns are met we can close it. If not, we’ll have to wait for later. He added: It’s not something we don’t want, as long as our security interests and our national interests are also secured. If not, no matter how much pressure, we’ll have just have to wait. ‘Not BSE.’ Mad cow disease played no role in the death of the 45-year-old firefighter last Friday at an Athenian military hospital in which he was been being treated, the Infectious Diseases Center announced yesterday. Laboratory tests indicate Dimitris Delis died of a rare form of the human Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, which has no link to the bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) disease found in cows.