NEWS

Greece looks at Iraqi war consequences

As a war against Iraq begins to appear inevitable, following US President George W. Bush’s demand that President Saddam Hussein heed UN Security Council resolutions and hand over weapons of mass destruction, officials in Athens are considering the possible consequences here. National Economy Minister Nikos Christodoulakis, on his return from a meeting of EU economy and finance ministers in Brussels, said that the Council had ascertained that «there is no breath of development in Europe and the situation can worsen if there is a war in the Persian Gulf.» This concern put pressure on foreign stock exchanges, especially European ones, leading the Athens bourse to close at its lowest point since October 1998, below the 2,000-point mark. (See story below.) This, combined with the fact that the price of oil has climbed to around $28 per barrel, has prompted the government «to place the economy on a state of alert and defense,» Christodoulakis told Kathimerini. On Monday the economy and finance minister will meet with Prime Minister Costas Simitis to discuss the new dangers stemming from international developments and to take measures to control inflation and public finances. They are also keen to maintain the advantage given to the economy by the influx of EU funds. On the diplomatic front, Simitis said yesterday that any intervention in Iraq should be in line with international law and within the context of the United Nations. Athens’s concern stems from the fact that it has based its policy on the Cyprus issue and Turkish claims on the Aegean on international law and UN resolutions. Although Greece’s issues are not related to Iraq, Athens fears that any weakening of the institutional role of the the UN will undermine the basis of Greece’s foreign policy. In any case, even a UN-sanctioned attack on Iraq may cause problems for Greece in that it will increase Turkey’s strategic importance and may thus affect developments in the Cyprus issue, the Aegean and the EU’s nascent defense force. Also, Greece is to hold the EU’s rotating presidency in the first half of next year and fears that a war against Iraq would derail progress on European problems.