NEWS

Hard line on EU force

The Greek government is determined to stand firm against international pressure to accept a compromise on the issue of a European reaction force that would involve an expanded role for Turkey. Prime Minister Costas Simitis repeated Greece’s rejection of the so-called «Ankara agreement» brokered by the United States and the United Kingdom and which convinced Turkey to abandon its opposition to the European force by granting it an effective operational veto in areas deemed of strategic interest to Turkey. «Our opposition to the Ankara text is known. We want the European Union to become autonomous in its decision-making, and that there be no special treatment (for anybody),» Simitis said following a meeting of the Inner Cabinet yesterday morning. Greece has found itself opposed on the issue by all 14 of its European Union partners who want to set up the 60,000-strong force – more of a peacemaking than an offensive unit – as soon as possible. Spain, which currently holds the rotating EU presidency, wants to settle the issue at next month’s Seville summit. Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar has sent a letter to Simitis proposing, as a compromise, to issue a statement vaguely affirming the territorial inviolability of the EU’s 15 members. «The letter does not address what we seek regarding the Euroforce,» Simitis told reporters yesterday, affirming Greece’s position that it will accept nothing short of modification of the Ankara text. Simitis’s position was supported by all present at the meeting. Defense Minister Yiannos Papantoniou said that, during previous Inner Cabinet meetings, «too optimistic an assessment» had been made concerning progress in the state of Greek-Turkish relations. This was interpreted as criticism of the positions of Foreign Minister George Papandreou, who was absent from the cabinet meeting due to illness. The absence gave rise to intense rumors about dissension at the top. Foreign Ministry spokesman Panos Beglitis said these interpretations were «fabricated» and confirmed the minister’s illness. Governance appears to be the most intractable of these issues, with the Cypriot government in favor of a bizonal confederation and Denktash insisting on a loose union of sovereign states.