NEWS

PM sees US ‘vote of confidence’

Washington – The Greek government yesterday expressed satisfaction over Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis’s wholly successful official visit to the United States, noting the warm climate the US administration had created. President George W. Bush’s positive comments on the very sensitive issue of security preparations for the Athens Olympics and the words of other US officials appear to signal the start of a new era in US-Greek relations. «The visit to the United States was a success,» Karamanlis told a news conference late on Thursday, wrapping up his five-day visit. He returned to Athens yesterday. In his talks with Bush and, separately, with Vice President Dick Cheney, Karamanlis was able to exchange opinions on a wide range of bilateral and international issues. The Olympic Games and their security were the focus of discussion. Commenting on Bush’s statement regarding the Olympics, especially the fact that his father will be heading the US delegation, Karamanlis said, «I don’t think there is a better vote of confidence than the fact that his father himself will lead the US delegation.» But the talks also dealt with issues of special Greek interest, such as the Cyprus problem, Greek-Turkish relations and the Balkans. On Cyprus, Karamanlis stressed that Greece’s strategic aim remained the island’s reunification, saying efforts for a solution, on the basis of UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s plan, must resume. While agreeing with economic help for Turkish Cypriots, he added US officials «were receptive of our position that the aid must not mean de facto recognition» of the Turkish-Cypriot breakaway state. On Greek-Turkish relations, Karamanlis said Greek support for Turkey’s EU prospects was important not only for the two countries, but for the region as a whole. «A Turkey that is irrevocably on the path toward Europe will be of the greatest benefit to the whole region – primarily to the Turkish people but also to Greece and other neighbors,» Karamanlis said. «I believe all issues will be made simpler by Turkey’s European prospects, and made more difficult if the Turkish government were not to follow this road, or if its efforts were rejected.» Karamanlis hinted Greece would not insist on the issue of the Aegean’s continental shelf be solved, or taken to the International Court of Justice at The Hague, before the EU decides in December whether to give Ankara a date for the start of accession talks. «I can’t necessarily say December is the watershed» for full normalization of relations, he said. He added things would improve as Turkey drew closer to the EU. On the issue of the Orthodox seminary on the Turkish island of Halki, which Ankara closed in 1972, Karamanlis said Bush had appeared receptive to the need for it to reopen. «I can say with joy that the reaction of the American president was positive and he said he will support the seminary’s reopening,» he said. On Balkan issues, the Greek prime minister said both sides were concerned by the situation in Kosovo and agreed on the need for borders to remain unchanged. He said there was nothing new regarding Athens’s dispute with Skopje over a final name for the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, but he added, «We believe there will be an effort by FYROM to display good will.» As for Iraq, Karamanlis said Greece supported the quickest possible transfer of power to Iraqis and support for democratic functioning. «And of course, we must all be prepared to contribute to Iraq’s reconstruction,» he said. He added Greece had not been asked to contribute troops to the coalition in Iraq.