Recent incidents cloud US-Greek relations

The USA has begun exerting renewed pressure on Athens – aimed at further distancing itself from the Cypriot government, and in a more obvious way – during the current crucial phase of Turkey’s course toward European Union membership. In particular, the USA’s decision to make known the «American view» regarding the identity of the Muslim minority in Thrace by adopting Turkey’s own positions is seen as one of the levers it is using to exercise this pressure. US Charge d’Affaires Thomas Countryman has spoken publicly of a Turkish rather than Muslim minority in Thrace, whose rights are allegedly being suppressed. This view was reportedly reiterated by US Ambassador Charles Ries on Thursday morning during a meeting with Greek Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis. The issue is one that is of particular interest, given the fact that Washington is also citing the existence of a «Macedonian minority» in Greece, forcing the foreign minister to report – in what were unusually strong terms – that she had made it «absolutely clear» to the US officials that the two countries have «different views» on that issue as well. These incidents have cast a shadow over Athens-Washington relations (which Washington has described as strategic) as well as over the US State Department’s relationship with Bakoyannis herself. According to sources in the USA, the Greek government’s general stance vis-a-vis the Cyprus issue, and that of the foreign minister in particular, is not what Washington would like. That is, that not enough pressure is being exerted on Cypriot President Tassos Papadopoulos to maintain «a more moderate and constructive» stance toward Ankara. The USA believes that if Papadopoulos is left to his own devices, there will be a repeat – at EU level this time – of the collapse of the UN secretary-general’s plan for Cyprus presented at Buergenstock, Switzerland, two years ago. The final point has been made even clearer, considering the fact that the US stance on the minority question shows they are not unaware of the fact that they are serving Turkish political goals that are hostile to Greece. Turkey has always raised the issue of the rights of the «Turkish minority» in Thrace as a way of laying the groundwork for claiming the right to intervene for the purpose of «protecting its brothers.» Yet another negotiating card has been added to the pack of bilateral differences, making it easier to raise the issue of mutuality in its commitments to the EU. Another example of an unfriendly stance toward Greece is a State Department document of yet another «American view» of things, this time with regard to terrorism. In an eight-page document titled «Diplomatic Security: Fighting Terrorism» detailing efforts to protect American diplomats against acts of terrorism, there is an almost full-page photograph of an anti-war demonstration in Athens right next to images of counterterrorism training, a poster of Osama Bin Laden and anti-American demonstrations in the Arab world and Indonesia. Then there is the USA’s refusal to include Greece along with other European Union member states in the visa waiver program that covers citizens from 27 countries visiting the US as tourists. The US authorities have blamed the slow rate of American bureaucracy, the lack of political will to renew the program for just one country and most recently the negative climate within the US toward anything directly or indirectly linked with immigration policy.

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