The UN and Americans are convinced that Greece definitely isn’t bluffing

The interview with UN special envoy Matthew Nimetz by Kathimerini and the statements by the US State Department a few days ago show that the international community is convinced of the sincerity of Athens’s warning that it will not consent to FYROM’s joining NATO if a mutually acceptable agreement is not reached beforehand on the name. Greek Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis announced those intentions and explained the limits to the government’s patience during her meeting with US Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns at the United Nations. Washington should not be surprised by Athens’s persistence. One indication of its significance for Greece was the decision by Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis’s to devote the greater part of his first meeting with President George W. Bush at the White House in May 2004 to explaining Greek sensitivities and concerns about the name of FYROM. At that time Washington did not pay due attention and six months later it made the unfortunate decision to recognize FYROM as the «Republic of Macedonia.» Some time ago the Bush administration began to take the Greek warning seriously, following intense activity in Congress with amendments and statements by lawmakers that upset the State Department. In the summer US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told her counterpart in Skopje that there was «a serious issue with Greece,» but until recently the American officials concerned believed that warnings about a veto in NATO were part of Karamanlis’s election campaign. Following contacts last week at the UN, they were convinced that indeed no Greek government would agree to FYROM’s joining NATO (or the EU), if the issue of the name were not solved first. In procedural terms, it is not necessary to exercise a veto. Athens could easily claim that conditions were not yet ripe and that FYROM had not yet fulfilled certain technical requirements for entry into NATO. The mistake made by UN General Assembly President Srgjan Kerim in addressing his compatriot Branko Crvenkovski as «president of Macedonia» is an infringement of Security Council resolutions (817 and 843 of 1995) and came after other recent actions, such as the renaming of Skopje airport as Alexander the Great, and bolstered the Greek position. Mitsotakis Burns, who met with Bakoyannis and Crvenkovski in New York and has clear picture of the situation from his terms as US ambassador to Athens and NATO, is expected to play a key role. He is also familiar with the domestic political dynamics of Greece, and recognizes the meaning of a small parliamentary majority. The government of Constantine Mitsotakis, which had the same slim majority, fell in 1993 because of the issue with Skopje. He is aware that Antonis Samaras, who was the protagonist of that defeat, is in the present Parliament, and also that for the first time there is a party in Parliament that has invested heavily in the issue of the name. When he heard the warning, he realized that Bakoyannis cannot make further concessions, and that there really is a red line that Athens will not cross. Burns also had the opportunity to learn that the Greek stance is bipartisan during his lengthy meeting six months ago at the State Department with former Greek Public Order Minister Michalis Chrysochoidis, whom the Americans hold in especially high regard. Even if there is a compromise solution, it will not be a panacea. It will be painful for Greece where the public has not been well enough informed to prepare for its content. Nimetz’s most recent «compromise» proposal, which most Greeks found indigestible, was «Republika Makedonija-Skopje.» Athens accepted it as a basis for negotiation, but Skopje rejected it, even though it is the same as the country’s constitutional name, but in the Cyrillic alphabet. As the final chapter in this long-drawn-out dispute over the name is being written, Burns is exploring to what degree the US can use its influence with Skopje. He must know that exhortations to FYROM may secure a compromise solution that not only will not impinge on that country’s unity but will enhance it by paving the way to NATO membership.

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