The US visit: Neither fireworks nor ‘Greek successes’

WASHINGTON DC – Despite the gloomy climate that has prevailed in Greece over the past few days, Prime Minister Costas Simitis’s visit to Washington and his talks there with US President George W. Bush took place without any unpleasant surprises, and above all – according to the prime minister’s office – without creating the impression that Athens was subject to any pressure on a broad range of issues. The prime minister may not have returned to Athens with any specific commitment from Washington on questions of major interest to Greece which he could present as a «success for the nation.» To some extent, however, he did at least manage to dissolve the climate of suspicion in the USA on the issue of domestic terrorism and Athens’s determination to stamp it out. At the same time, the visit also managed to maintain the positive atmosphere in Washington over continuing efforts to normalize Greek-Turkish relations, although the different approaches taken by Simitis and senior US officials in talks on the question of the Euro-force were absolutely clear. According to sources, Bush restricted himself in his 40-minute talk with Simitis to making general observations on the entire range of Greek-American relations, including terrorism. US Secretary of State Colin Powell made specific reference to the need to wipe out the November 17 terrorist organization and linked this issue directly to the 2004 Olympics in Athens. Simitis made specific commitments to intensify efforts against terrorism, and to cooperate fully with the USA. According to sources in Greece, this position was received with satisfaction by the Americans. It did not go unnoticed that Simitis told US Vice President Dick Cheney that he was optimistic that «there will soon be positive results» in the war to wipe out November 17. Euro-force In contrast to the issue of terrorism, the prime minister was not so successful in trying to convince Washington of Greece’s concern regarding the «Istanbul document,» a combined British-American proposal on the structure and operation of the European rapid reaction force. Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld insisted that the problems related to the operation of the Euro-force should be resolved as soon as possible. Members of the Greek delegation accompanying Simitis to Washington said it was positive that Simitis’s interlocutors recognized that Britain had been wrong in not consulting with Greece before drafting the Euro-force plan. According to the same sources, this means, in practice, that the USA might «tolerate» Athens’s demand for a fresh debate on the issue within the European Union – if necessary at a later date – on a different basis. Also favorable were the results of the prime minister’s talks in Washington on the Cyprus issue. According to Simitis, Bush reiterated the USA’s support for efforts toward a just and viable solution of the Cyprus issue and declared himself in favor of Cyprus’s membership in the EU, even without a resolution of the political problem. However, despite the Greek delegation’s efforts, none of the officials Simitis spoke to indicated that a resolution of the Cyprus issue within 2002 was a foreign policy priority for the USA. This is important, since Athens fears that Turkish-Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash could capitalize for some time on his recent talks with Cypriot President Glafcos Clerides in order to give the impression that the whole of Cyprus will join the EU in 2003, and then raise procedural or other issues to set up obstacles to Cyprus’s EU accession. Simitis’s associates are also happy about the USA’s approach to Greek-Turkish relations, the euro and the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens. Bush publicly praised the Greek government’s efforts to normalize relations with Ankara and expressed the certainty that the Athens Olympics would be a complete success. Overall outcome Simitis avoided raising the problems of the NATO digital maps of the Aegean that, following instructions from the US State Department, do not show the Greek-Turkish sea border. This decision on Simitis’s part to a great extent reflects the difficulties Athens would face if it tried to freeze the use of the maps, which essentially support Turkish claims of «gray zones» in the Aegean. According to reliable sources, however, the map problem had been included in the preliminary agenda of issues that the Greek side was to raise during the talks. The same sources said Athens intended to draw attention to the fact that if the maps were adopted, it would create conditions for a new period of tension in the Aegean and a weakening of NATO’s southeastern wing. These intentions, however, remained on paper, as it appears that the climate in Washington left no margin for such protests.

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