Papandreou at home abroad

Making the most of his position at the helm of Socialist International, opposition leader George Papandreou has proven himself once more to be a leader of international caliber in his address to the Fatah conference that was held in Bethlehem earlier this week. The chief of PASOK reiterated his support for the Palestinian people, reminded them that Greece is a friend and historical ally, encouraged one of the two biggest factions of the Palestinian movement to seek common ground with rival Hamas so that that the Palestinian people could be expressed by «one voice,» and underlined that a solution will not be reached through violence, thus also voicing the stance of the international community on the Middle East issue. Papandreou addressed an audience that was interested in what he had to say as it remembered the especially close relationship enjoyed by his father, Andreas Papandreou, and late PLO leader Yasser Arafat, giving his address warm and emotional overtones. This relationship has allowed George Papandreou to maintain friendly ties with the Palestinians without drawing the same criticism that his father did from Greece’s Western allies. Papandreou, who had a face-to-face meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas earlier during the conference, also noted the opportunity that has presented itself in America’s change of stance on the issue, thanks to US President Barack Obama, who extended a hand of friendship to the Muslim world during his address in Cairo in early June. Papandreou enjoyed a similarly warm welcome during a recent visit to another region that has suffered its own share of war and bloodshed, Serbia. Reliable sources in Belgrade, who are not from among Papandreou’s entourage, spoke to Kathimerini of the amiable atmosphere in Papandreou’s meeting with both Serb President Boris Tadic and Socialist Party leader and Vice President Ivica Dacic. Moreover, the PASOK chief played a critical role in the formation of the current coalition government in Belgrade, which is pushing EU-minded reforms, while Serbs of every political stripe cannot forget Papandreou’s support as Greek foreign minister during the difficult period of transition from Slobodan Milosevic’s regime to the democratic government of Vojislav Kostunica. Both the European Union and the US had supported Papandreou at the time and his policies brought results. Indeed, during a meeting in New York last year, Tadic said that Papandreou wholeheartedly supports Serbia’s EU aspirations, «as a regional leader, a European politician and president of Socialist International.» Papandreou’s active presence in the international political arena bolsters Greece’s image, as well as his own, of course, and it seems that he will continue to use the close relationships forged over the years to the benefit of the country. He could, for example, maximize his relationship with Madeleine Albright over the next few month, as the former US secretary of state will be leading the group of experts debating the future of NATO. In fact, the director of PASOK’s diplomatic bureau, Yannis-Alexis Zepos, is one of the 12 consultants. The PASOK chief’s most recent diplomatic efforts have confirmed what we already knew of him from his five-year stint as foreign minister. He is a politician who can appear comfortably at any international forum, he maintains his relationships and ties and he is accepted as a reliable counterpart – all qualities that are valuable to the country, especially if he were elected prime minister.