PM closing in on visit to USA

Negotiations between Washington and Athens regarding a possible visit by Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis to the White House have gathered pace and the trip now looks set to take place by mid-October at the latest, unless the premier decides to call snap general elections, sources told Kathimerini. Preliminary talks between the two sides have focused on a planned meeting between Karamanlis and US President Barack Obama in September. The Greek side is particularly keen to discuss the issue of the country’s passport holders joining the USA’s visa waiver program. Athens had hoped for a deal, which would mean that Greeks would no longer require a visa to travel to America, to be completed last August but the process was halted by Washington. However, the paperwork was prepared and signed by Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis and Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg at last month’s Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) summit on Rhodes. The agreement is expected to be presented in Parliament in due course and Karamanlis’s visit will be intended as a follow-up during which the deal will be signed by diplomats from the two countries. This would allow Karamanlis to return with something tangible from a visit to Washington rather than just the usual diplomatic platitudes. However, sources underlined that a final date for the meeting may not have been set already because Karamanlis has not yet decided whether to call a snap poll in the autumn. A pre-election visit to Washington and the signing of the visa waiver agreement would clearly be a public relations coup for Karamanlis but it is unlikely that the American side would agree to hold the meeting during the runup to a national vote in Greece. Speculation about the elections being held in the next few months resurfaced yesterday when the government announced that it was giving the green light for a 3.5-billion-euro program to fund projects at a local level.