NEWS

Karamanlis breaks the ice with Obama

Soon after the two leaders held their first meeting on Saturday, Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis welcomed US President Barack Obama’s presence at the NATO summit in Strasbourg but revealed little about the content of the discussions apart from Greece’s commitment for a modest increase in its presence in Afghanistan. In a meeting that was confirmed just a few days earlier, Obama and Karamanlis are believed to have discussed a range of issues, including Greece’s name dispute with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), Turkey’s presence in the Aegean and reunification talks on Cyprus. In the opening remarks of the meeting, Obama spoke of the USA and Greece’s «shared values, a shared belief in democracy and liberty; that we have struggled and fought for that democracy and liberty as fellow members of NATO. «Now in the 21st century, we continue to fight on behalf of those issues shoulder to shoulder.» Karamanlis did not reveal the details of what the two men said but, on the FYROM issue, he suggested that Skopje was adopting a 19th-century attitude that would not help resolve the dispute. It appears that the US side indicated it would not at this moment pressure Athens over the issue. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is reported to have said that she understands Greece’s position and that FYROM should be sent a clear message that it has to help resolve the dispute, preferably with a mutually acceptable composite name. Karamanlis was more forthcoming with information about what commitment Greece had made to increase the number of troops it has stationed in Afghanistan. Obama had requested that European countries take on a bigger role in sharing the burden of the military effort in Afghanistan and it was agreed that NATO members would send an extra 5,000 troops to help with the country’s upcoming elections. Karamanlis said that Greek soldiers would take over the administration of Kabul International Airport next year and that 30 to 40 extra individuals would be sent to the Afghan capital for this operation. Greece will also send experts to help train the local police.