Talks with Obama; Merkel unsure

Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis is due to hold his first meeting with US President Barack Obama on the sidelines of a NATO summit in Strasbourg, France, today but it appears that his bid to also hold talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel seems to have fallen through. The meeting with Obama was confirmed late on Wednesday and the Greek side has been preparing its agenda since then. As it is taking place in the wake of the G-20 summit in London, the meeting will touch on issues relating to the economic crisis. However, the Greek side is keen to talk about foreign policy issues, in particular the name dispute with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), reunification talks on Cyprus and its relations with Turkey. In fact, sources have indicated that it is the latter issue that played an important role in convincing the Americans to agree to the meeting. Obama is due to visit Turkey tomorrow and the Greek side argued that Athens is one of the strongest supporters of Ankara’s bid to join the European Union and, as such, talks between the US president and Karamanlis would be useful ahead of his trip. On the American side, Obama is expected to discuss Greece’s role in oil and gas pipeline projects as well as the possibility of Greece increasing its small contribution to the operation in Afghanistan. The positive mood following the news that the meeting with Obama had been fixed was slightly diminished by the fact that by last night the Germans had failed to confirm talks between Merkel and Karamanlis. Relations between Greece and Germany have hit a rocky patch recently, largely based on Berlin’s dissatisfaction with Athens’s failure to move ahead with the arms programs it had previously agreed to. This weekend’s talks mark the beginning of a busy period of diplomacy for the Greek prime minister. On April 9, Karamanlis is due to fly to Paris to meet with French President Nicolas Sarkozy. He will follow this up with a two-day trip to Cyprus on April 22, where he will hold talks with Cypriot President Dimitris Christofias. The premier will then travel to Sofia to take part in an international summit on the use of natural gas in Europe.

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