Karamanlis talks to US officials

New Democracy leader Costas Karamanlis’s successful visit to the United States is part of a detailed plan to raise his international profile. Sources say Karamanlis put forward the Greek view on major issues and received positive responses on the accession of Cyprus to the European Union regardless of whether the political problem has been solved, and on American support for Greek demands concerning the European army. Last summer, when it became clear that while Karamanlis’s popularity had increased markedly he had a low foreign affairs profile, the party devised a strategy to enhance that profile. Officials at ND headquarters rate the leader’s US visit as the latest in a series of successes. The strategy includes the party’s principled stance of promoting national issues through a series of trips and contacts by its leader. As president of a committee for reconstructing the Balkans, delegated by the European Peoples’ Party, Karamanlis took an initiative on the Balkans that will soon be followed by frequent contacts with other Balkan leaders. Last year he visited Gothenburg, the US, Brussels and Frankfurt. This year he went to Britain, where he met the British foreign minister, Luxembourg, Brussels, Barcelona and Germany. In Canada Karamanlis received a warm reception, even from Greek diaspora newspapers which do not favor his party. He held substantive talks with US Vice President Dick Cheney and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice. Both those meetings and others with Secretary of State Colin Powell and State Department officials focused on the European army, Cyprus, Greek-Turkish relations and the Balkans. What counted more for Karamanlis in the US was not being photographed with President George Bush but being one of only five officials from 40 nations to have a five-minute talk with him. ND has justifiably made a fuss about this, as it was the first time a Greek opposition leader has met and talked to an American president. Inevitably, the topic was one that matters to the Americans, protecting the Olympic Games from any kind of terrorist attack. Bush seemed reassured by Karamanlis’s explanations. The meeting with Cheney was satisfactory, not only because it covered the European army and national issues, but because Prime Minister Costas Simitis tried in vain to meet Cheney during his trip to the US. Thessaloniki Internet cafe-owners lugged hundreds of computers into the city center yesterday in protest at a bill, tabled in Parliament earlier this month, which will prevent them from offering their clients online computer games under a general crackdown on illegal gambling. Protesters claim their livelihoods are at risk and demand that their sector be exempted from the remit of legislation which deems electronic games in public places illegal and imposes fines of up to 75,000 euros and jail terms of up to 12 months on offenders.