Greece steps up reactions over FYROM

Greece stepped up its criticism of the United States yesterday for its decision to recognize the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia by the name Athens has for years fought to block. At the same time, the government heralded a carrot-and-stick policy meant to ensure that Skopje does not insist on calling itself the «Republic of Macedonia» – which Athens says could imply claims on its northern province of Macedonia. In his first public comments on Thursday’s development, which came on the morrow of US President George Bush’s re-election and caught Athens completely off-guard, Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis labelled Washington’s decision «erroneous and off-target.» «With their move, the United States did not help to solve the problem,» he told a press conference in Brussels, following the end of a two-day informal European Union summit. «I am afraid that [Washington] rendered it more difficult… This move was erroneous. It was off-target. I disagree with its substance, and with the way it was implemented.» The PM warned that Greece’s tiny northern neighbor could not attain its target of eventually entering the EU unless both Athens and Skopje were first able to agree on a mutually acceptable name. «The European Union’s position always was – and remains – that in order to have any hope of joining the Union, FYROM must first have agreed on a mutually acceptable solution,» he said. Karamanlis said he had discussed the issue with several of his EU colleagues during the two-day informal summit, including Germany’s Gerhard Schroeder, the UK’s Tony Blair and Spain’s Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero – as well as EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana. However, the PM insisted that Greece would do its best to negotiate a solution that was agreeable to both sides, warning that this might well prove unpalatable to many Greeks. «We will continue to make our best effort to attain a mutually acceptable solution,» Karamanlis said. «This solution must not only satisfy the Greek people’s sense of what is just, but above all, it must lay down the preconditions for stability and good neighborly relations in the region.» Responding to Thursday’s attacks from the opposition – mainly the PASOK main opposition party – the PM argued that the Socialists had done nothing to advance Greek positions on the matter during their years in power. «But whatever you sweep under the carpet eventually re-emerges in front of you,» he said. In Athens, government spokesman Evangelos Antonaros was blunter on the matter of a possible Greek veto on FYROM’s bids to join large international bodies of which Greece is a member. «A country’s access to the European Union and NATO demands a unanimous decision by all existing members,» he said. «The Greek government will not take such a decision unless a mutually acceptable solution has been reached.» Meanwhile, in a message of congratulations yesterday to Bush, PASOK leader George Papandreou seized the occasion – as did President Costis Stephanopoulos on Thursday – to criticize the State Department’s decision on FYROM. The Orthodox Church also joined the fray yesterday, with Archbishop Demetrios of America warning of a coming protest campaign by Greek Americans.