NEWS

Simitis flies to US for official visit

Prime Minister Costas Simitis left yesterday for an official visit to the USA which is to focus on the most important issues concerning Greece and its foreign policy. But the much-anticipated trip was clouded by an uproar over allegations made by an influential US television show on Sunday suggesting that Greece is soft on terrorism. «Our plan and our initiatives for the constructive presence of Greece in the European Union and on the international scene begins in 2002 with our visit to the USA,» Simitis said at Athens Airport before his departure. He listed the issues that he will discuss tomorrow with President George W. Bush: Cyprus’s EU accession; initiatives for a solution for the Cyprus issue; «an improvement in relations with Turkey, pressing for an end to the negative climate as soon as possible;» and action to establish permanent stability in Southeastern Europe. «At the center of our talks with President Bush and the US political leadership will be the strengthening of bilateral political and economic relations, a review of broader international developments and the need to shape a modern security system after the events of September 11, the unsolved sources of crises that continue to affect our geopolitical region and the Cyprus issue,» Simitis said. «It is obvious that we do not bow to pressure,» Simitis said, in reference to the US news report and frequent American calls for progress in the pursuit of the November 17 terrorist gang, none of whose members has been captured in the 26 years of the group’s activity. «I believe as well that the USA realizes that we will not accept pressure,» Simitis said. The government, opposition parties, and Parliament displayed rare unanimity in condemning the suggestions made on CBS’s 60 Minutes program that the Athens 2004 Olympics might be unsafe and that members of the ruling PASOK party might have ties with members of November 17. On the show, former US ambassador Thomas Niles claimed of Greek officials: «They are tolerating a terrorist group because from their domestic political perspective, revealing the terrorist group is more costly than not.» Such charges are seen as blatantly unfair in Greece, where the government rejects any connection between November 17 and PASOK and has been working intensively to help track down terrorists. «There are circles in the USA and interests which want to present problems, because they believe that they serve their ends in this way,» Simitis said. «We are used to this. We have our answers. We have very convincing answers for everything. We have our policy,» he said. «That is why we feel no anxiety.» Simitis took pains to make clear that he was meeting with President Bush tomorrow as the representative of an independent country that did not take orders from others, as was the case during the Cold War. «The time is long gone when the prime minister of Greece would go to some countries in order to hear recommendations for a certain policy. This is no more,» he said. «The prime minister of Greece goes to the USA and wherever else in order to present his policy and its direction, to discuss and to work in common for peace and cooperation in the region.» Acting government spokesman Telemachos Hytiris claimed the CBS show was «an example of yellow journalism on television, a program that was obviously predetermined, prejudiced and slanderous. It is a regurgitation of what we have heard in the past. It is a silly and base program and we do not feel that it puts us under any kind of pressure,» he said. Regarding CBS’s insinuations that Parliament speaker Apostolos Kaklamanis was a «super nationalist» and perhaps soft on terrorism, the opposition New Democracy party spokesman said: «It is unacceptable to insult the institution of the speaker of the Greek Parliament with such ease and without evidence.» The Parliament said in a statement on Monday that, «The goal of this wretched and suspect program is both obvious and naive and is part of the well-known propaganda of circles in the USA to say that in Greece there are politicians who harbor terrorism.»