NEWS

Greek diplomats brace for pressure at NATO summit

Greece’s top diplomats have the whole country behind them in barring Skopje’s bid to join NATO for as long as the Macedonia name dispute remains unresolved, Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis said yesterday as she prepared to travel to Bucharest for a crucial alliance summit. «We have the country’s full political backing,» Bakoyannis said yesterday after briefing the Inner Cabinet on diplomatic preparations for the summit, which is to extend membership invitations to Albania, Croatia and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM). Hopes for a solution appeared to have faded. «The time now left for such a decision is dramatically limited if not non-existent,» foreign ministry spokesman Giorgos Koumoutsakos said. Bakoyannis, due in Bucharest today along with Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis, explained Greece’s stance in an opinion piece published in the International Herald Tribune yesterday. «As long as this problem persists we cannot and will not endorse FYROM joining NATO or the European Union. No Greek government will ever agree to it,» she wrote. Karamanlis also tried to muster some international backing, reportedly telephoning German Chancellor Angela Merkel and other foreign leaders. According to sources, Karamanlis and Bakoyannis analyzed the possible scenarios that would follow a Greek veto of FYROM’s bid to join the Atlantic alliance. Meanwhile opposition leaders were unanimous in their calls for a veto. Main opposition PASOK leader George Papandreou, a former foreign minister, offered to travel to Skopje to try and make some diplomatic headway but his proposal was rejected. In Skopje, FYROM’s Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski said he was optimistic. «Although there are no positive signs from Greece, we still hope to be invited for NATO membership,» he said. In Brussels, the European Union’s presidency said «the ball is in Greece’s court,» claiming Skopje had already «shown a lot of flexibility.»