NEWS

Gains, open issues from PM’s US visit

Prime Minister Costas Simitis ended his official visit to Washington yesterday with many «gains» but also with many open fronts that Greece will have to negotiate its way through in coming months. After meeting with President George W. Bush on Thursday, Simitis met also with Secretary of State Colin Powell and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. During his contacts, Simitis managed to put across the message that Athens is working systematically and intensively to eradicate the November 17 terrorist gang, none of whose members has been arrested since the group emerged at the end of 1975. This remains a top priority for the US leadership. On the other hand, Simitis did not manage to change Washington’s conviction that a solution to the problem of the EU’s rapid reaction force has to be found as soon as possible (despite Athens’s objections to a US-British compromise giving Turkey a say in the force’s activities in the Aegean and with regard to Cyprus). Also, the Greeks expected richer results with regard to the Cyprus issue, with the Americans taking pains to avoid committing themselves to use their influence with Ankara to help solve the problem this year. In a meeting with journalists from nine prominent news organizations yesterday, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal and CNN, Simitis confronted US skepticism regarding November 17 and security for Athens 2004. Simitis expressed confidence that soon there would be results in the battle against terrorism, describing November 17 as a «small group without bonds with the Greek people.» He stressed that his government wanted to solve the problem and that it will benefit greatly from doing so. Simitis added that recent polls in Greece have shown that expressions of anti-Americanism have receded and that public opinion is overwhelmingly in support of the war on terrorism. Simitis described his contacts in Washington as «interesting, fruitful and substantial.» He said that the US military presence in the Balkans should continue. Opposition New Democracy party commented that «It is early to evaluate the results of the visit, but there are serious questions over what was done and what was not done there. The expected progress on the issues of Cyprus and the EU force did not materialize.»