NEWS

Washington presses for EU force deal

US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld made it plain to Foreign Minister George Papandreou yesterday that Washington will not accept Athens’s objections to a deal allowing Turkey a say in the EU’s nascent defense force. This has increased the Greek government’s concern that Athens will come under intense pressure to accept the so-called «Ankara text,» which allows Turkey a say in what the EU force does in areas that Greece considers strategically important, such as the Aegean and Cyprus. Papandreou, on a visit to Washington, met with Rumsfeld and Assistant Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz at the Pentagon. Both sides said their talks were «constructive.» But all the indications were that the Americans had rejected Greece’s objections and also expected Athens to accept the Ankara text, which was drawn up by Turkey, Britain and the United States working outside of EU organs. Greece is isolated within the EU on the issue, as its 14 partners are pressing for an agreement that will allow the force to be used in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. The only change that Washington appears prepared to accept is the drawing-up of a second political text by EU members which would satisfy, after a fashion, Athens’s demand for the protection of its sovereign rights and international law. But Prime Minister Costas Simitis last week rejected such a solution, indicating that any political document by the 15 did not eliminate Greece’s objections to the Ankara agreement, which will be legal and binding when it enters into force. Papandreou, however, said that «the operation of the Euroforce will go ahead unhindered and without the adoption of the Ankara text.» He based his optimism on the efforts by the Spanish EU presidency to reach a compromise. Papandreou and the US officials also discussed Cyprus, following the recent visit to the island by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, which had created «an opportunity that should not be missed,» Papandreou said. «Greece and Turkey would have very different strategic relations, positive relations, if we can solve this,» he said.