US supports Greek influence in Balkans

Nicholas Burns, undersecretary for political affairs and the number-three man in the US State Department, is well known in Greece from his term as US ambassador from the end of 1997 until mid-2001. At his new post in Washington, he is responsible for many issues of interest to Greece, such as his country’s relations with Greece, the European Union, NATO, the Balkans and Turkey. Last week, statements he made in an interview with the Skopje daily Utrinski Vesnik caused a stir in Greece, as he was quoted as saying it would be «shameful» for Greece to veto the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM)’s future in NATO. In this interview with Kathimerini, conducted by telephone on Saturday, Burns said his statement had been «misquoted» and that he had actually said it would be a «shame» if these problems were not solved. The US, he said, took a neutral stand in the UN-mediated negotiations over that country’s name, although Washington has actually recognized the FYROM as the «Republic of Macedonia.» The interview touched on many issues of Greek interest and expressed the view that US-Greek relations were «the best at any time in my memory.» He spoke of US support for Greek interests in the Balkans, and on Greece’s relations with Turkey, the US agreed the Halki Seminary should be reopened. «We agree,» he said, «that the necessary support should be given to… Patriarch Bartholomew.» On the US’s recognition of an «Albanian minority» in Greece, Burns said his country had a «longstanding practice of recognizing that there are minorities in Greece… I remember that the previous Greek government did not appreciate this fact… But it’s not a crisis in our relationship.» Looking back on his term in Athens, which included widespread opposition to the war in Kosovo, the arrest of Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan and then-US president Bill Clinton’s visit to Greece, Burns spoke of his «good memories» despite the «difficult experiences (that) tested all of us and… certainly improved my own skills.»