Athens satisfied but wary over EU force delay

Despite opposition criticism and threats from hardline members of the ruling PASOK party not to waver, the government yesterday expressed satisfaction at the decision by EU leaders at their meeting in Laeken over the weekend to postpone the issue of their nascent army’s relations with other countries, such as Turkey. But members of the government also showed concern at how the upcoming Spanish presidency of the EU will deal with the issue. Among the questions to be solved is what say will be given to countries that are members of NATO but not of the EU. Greek officials also fear that they will come under pressure from the USA to soften their stand, especially during Prime Minister Costas Simitis’s visit to Washington on January 9 to 11. Athens objects that the proposal, drafted by Britain and agreed to by Turkey, gives Turkey a say in what the EU force will do in the Aegean and on Cyprus. Hardline members of PASOK have also made very clear that they will not accept any backing down by Athens. The government cannot retreat because the internal party front is very strong, said Karolos Papoulias, a former foreign minister who heads Parliament’s foreign affairs committee. He is one of 30 PASOK MPs who signed a letter warning the government not to accept the British plan. New Democracy is to decide today what position it will take. Its leader, Costas Karamanlis, charged on Sunday that the government was unable to enforce what is self-evident. At a meeting with his aides yesterday, however, Simitis said that the postponement of the decision on the European army was a positive development and that it gave Athens the time to create a diplomatic climate suitable to making its positions accepted. It also averted Greece having to veto a decision. We are doing our best to keep the national highway system functioning, and get the airports which have been closed working as soon as possible, Minister for Macedonia and Thrace Giorgos Paschalidis told journalists yesterday in Thessaloniki, where temperatures dipped as low as minus four degrees centigrade in what appears to be the coldest winter since 1988.

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