NEWS

Crucial meetings for Greece in New York

In about a month’s time, when Greece is likely to be elected as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council, Foreign Minister Petros Molyviatis will formally be able to claim success for his five-day visit to New York that ended on Saturday. Reserved by nature, Molyviatis said he was leaving the UN General Assembly meeting «more optimistic than when I came,» at least as far as the main purpose of his trip was concerned, that is to further Greece’s candidacy for the Security Council. His optimism arose from the results of his meetings with his 15 counterparts from various countries on the sidelines of the General Assembly, as well as other meetings held by deputy ministers Yiannis Valinakis and Evripidis Stylianidis. So particular attention was paid to Molyviatis’s speech to the General Assembly on Friday afternoon, a speech that could be viewed as a kind of «contractual» commitment to the UN as to how and on the basis of which principles Greece would function over the next two years if elected to the Security Council. «We are eager to contribute constructively, to the best of our abilities, toward making the United Nations as effective as possible for the 21st century,» he said in his speech, adding that Greece remained fully dedicated to «the promotion of democratic principles of government, peaceful resolution of disputes, strict adherence to international law and respect for human rights.» If Greece is elected to the Council, it will be another challenge successfully met by the Karamanlis government. Naturally, the four meetings that attracted the greatest attention in New York were with his counterparts Abudullah Gul from Turkey, Sergei Lavrov from Russia and Colin Powell of the US, and UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. The meetings The meeting with Gul was perhaps the only one that produced a newsworthy item: the decision to cancel, for the third year in a row, the military exercises scheduled for the eastern Mediterranean. However, as the decision also concerned the Cypriot Republic, Molyviatis had been in continued contact with Cypriot President Tassos Papadopoulos in advance of the relevant announcements. Molyviatis and Gul also decided to give fresh impetus to the confidence-building measures in order to boost the already improved climate in bilateral cooperation. The Greek minister’s meeting with his Russian counterpart confirmed Russia’s positive stance not only on the Cyprus issue but a number of others of interest to Greece. Meanwhile, Molyviatis’s comments at the end of his meeting with the US secretary of state recalled those made during Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis’s visit to the US: that bilateral relations are on a very good level, and that there was no indication of any desire on the part of the US to exercise pressure on issues of mutual interest. Since most of these issues are still pending, or else require further study (such as the review of the matter of making Greek passports more secure), this pressure is likely to be exerted at further, «lower level» meetings. Cyprus issue Given that the Cyprus issue appears to have deadlocked at a point that is disadvantageous to the Greek Cypriots, and given the crucial phase of Greece’s candidacy for the Security Council, Molyviatis’s meeting with Annan on Friday night, shortly before his departure from New York, was of particular interest. Prior to the visit, Foreign Ministry sources emphasized that the fact of his visit alone, as well as the contacts scheduled for its duration, would be aimed at confirming the major importance for Greece of the UN as «guardian of international legality.» «To my country, the peaceful resolution of all disputes at any early stage on the basis of the UN Charter is of fundamental importance. We strongly believe that the United Nations system of conflict prevention and its preventive potential should be further enhanced to respond better to the challenges ahead,» he said, touching on the sensitive issue of the need for reforms at the UN. Close calls There were two occasions on which it appeared as if problems might arise which would be difficult for Greece to avoid. The first was the possibility that the US secretary of state might ask Greece to take a more active part, including military participation, in Iraq. Powell did not do so, but the Greek foreign minister ensured that his statements were clear on the issue – there is no question of sending Greek troops to Iraq, he emphasized. Another cloud that loomed over the Molyviatis-Powell meeting was the State Department’s initiative to raise in Congress Washington’s claim of «illegal» sales to Cyprus of US military materiel and weapons. «This is prohibited by our laws,» said State Department sources, who in an attempt to play down the issue added, «Those are our laws, not our policy.» Of course, Washington has no issue with the use of American military supplies by the Turkish occupation forces in Cyprus, because, as they say, the materiel and weapons do not end up with third parties – in this case the Turkish Cypriots. One could say that this is the American way of thinking and not common logic, for even if Washington does not officially admit it, there were clear indications that these aspects of US policy were aimed at exerting pressure in order to achieve their political goals. In that case, the goals are none other than to bring the UN secretary-general’s proposal for Cyprus to the negotiating table once again; but this time with Nicosia changing its stance and accepting the plan. Although the Greek Foreign Ministry spokesman tried to play down the issue with references to the existence of the legal aspects of this specific US move, he did not shrink from giving a direct answer: «In no event will the Cypriot Republic be left vulnerable,» spokesman George Koutsoumakos said at one of his New York briefings. ND’s centrist ideology The foreign minister appeared particularly satisfied with the results of his interview with Charlie Rose on one of the most popular programs on the American television station PBS. He fielded questions on many issues of both Greek and international interest such as terrorism, EU-Turkey relations, and Greek-Turkish relations. However, Rose wanted his Greek guest to provide indications of the ruling party’s ideological identity. Molyviatis did not hesitate to proclaim that New Democracy was not a right-wing party. «It is a centrist party which follows a policy of consensus and aims at a free market economy, but with a human face,» he said, thus contributing to the informal debate that has been going on for some time in Greece regarding the redrawing of the boundaries on Greece’s political map. FYROM name issue A surprise meeting between Deputy Foreign Minister Yiannis Valinakis and Matthew Nimetz, the UN mediator on the dispute over the naming of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), appears to have laid the foundation for the resumption of the procedure to find a «solution acceptable to all» to the problem that has been unresolved for some time. Greece has refused to accept the FYROM’s use of the name «Macedonia,» which is also the name of Greece’s northern prefecture along the border with FYROM. Valinakis asked Nimetz to inform the government in Skopje of Greece’s desire for a substantial dialogue on the issue in accordance with resolutions taken by the UN and under its auspices to find a solution to the dispute. As yet there has been no response from Skopje, nor was there from the FYROM foreign minister during his meeting with Molyviatis Wednesday evening.