Pursuing a collective stance

Foreign Minister George Papandreou, in an interview last weekend, spelled out Greece’s priorities as president of the European Union next year and spoke of security issues ranging from the war against the November 17 terrorist group to the impending US war on Iraq. Athens also intends to keep working for a solution to the Cyprus problem even after the Copenhagen summit in December, which is expected to result in a decision on Cyprus’s accession, and remains interested in pushing for Turkey’s eventual membership in the European Union, Papandreou said. «Our role, we hope, would be to be able to spread and enhance values which we share, which we cherish, which are the values of democracy, values of human rights, values of peaceful cooperation, open economic development,» he said in an interview with IHT-TV’s John Defterios. It was aired on state television’s NET channel Saturday and Sunday. On US-European relations, Papandreou said: «I think we need to develop much more discussion between our societies and our governments, as this is not an automatic relationship as it was during the Cold War. We have to nurture and develop this through a dialogue.» I’d like to start with this effort to eliminate the terror group November 17. What changed in the government’s effort that led to all these arrests in only three months, after literally decades of hiding? This group was a very tight-knit and small group, and therefore, very difficult to find. But we were very systematic over the past years, have worked with international agencies, both with the United States, the UK and others, in developing our methods. And I also think that this group was more and more isolated in public opinion, and this made it very difficult for them to be able to move around without being detected. Finally they made a mistake, but we were ready. Our sources were ready to use this mistake and from there to unravel and dismantle the organization. Did the Games of 2004 and international security concerns force action or at least alter the tactics used here? I think that everybody understood that this is a major priority. It has been, but I think there was a general consensus, a national consensus that we had to wipe out terrorism. Terrorism, violence cannot be tolerated as a political statement. Let’s turn our attention to Iraq. You met with US Secretary of State Colin Powell during the [annual opening of the] UN General Assembly. Are you comfortable with the aggressive approach Washington is taking against Iraq or should the weapons inspections process proceed, even if it takes months or years? Well, I think we all want to see, first of all, that Saddam Hussein does apply the UN resolutions. Secondly, we were very happy to see that this issue came back to the UN, and is being discussed in the UN, and therefore the UN will be the organization which will take the lead. Certainly, we want to see this problem solved through diplomatic means. Pressure obviously is necessary to be applied from the international community, there is a collective stance. If this collective stance can be maintained, we may have a diplomatic victory. Washington certainly sees it differently. Will this further strain US-EU relations in your opinion? I think this is an important question. We have, as Europeans, voiced our opinions, and so that we need to cooperate very closely with the United States on this issue. First of all because we feel a collective stance is important. Secondly, the fact that it is within the UN is important to make clear that this does have international legitimacy, and this is important in the eyes of many countries, that, if you like, should be educated into accepting international law, and UN resolutions. But thirdly, there’s also a question as to what military confrontation would mean, not only for Saddam Hussein – which is a specific target, if you like, or would be in this campaign – but for the whole region. How the Arab world would react, how the region would then be affected, how this would affect the economies and certainly the political situation. So there are a number of factors that have to be looked at if one is going to talk about a more aggressive military stance, but I do think that we all need to back the UN effort, and make sure that Saddam understands that there is a true possibility that there will be military action if he does not comply. There is concern in Athens that Iraq could dominate Greece’s term with the EU presidency. Knowing that, what are your top priorities? Well, this is something that presidencies can’t be absolutely sure they will not have a crisis on their hands, and obviously a war with Iraq would be a major international issue. And certainly that would take up lot of our time. I think, talking about EU-US relations is very important, reinvigorating the transatlantic relationship. We have common values, we have our common goals. I think we need to develop much more discussion between our societies and our governments, as this is not an automatic relationship as it was during the Cold War. We have to nurture and develop this through a dialogue. Obviously there are other topics too, and Europe is enlarging, we will be getting very close to our [current] population with a new membership, close to half a billion citizens. What a European citizen is going to be is a very important issue in this future world, what Europe stands for, how it is able to play a role, particularly in its neighborhood from the Caucasus up to the Baltic Sea, Russia, Ukraine, down to the Mediterranean, the Middle East, and of course in its relations with the outside world in many areas – with Africa, with Asia, with Latin America. We will be a major, we are becoming a major power, already a major economic power, and therefore, our role, we hope, would be to be able to spread and enhance values which we share, which we cherish, which are the values of democracy, values of human rights, values of peaceful cooperation, open economic development. And these types of values, I think we will be able to bring out in our presidency as an open debate of how we deepen our structures in Europe to make the European citizen involved, participate, and get that added value that Europe is all about, and also with our neighbors and the international world, of how we work with them to promote these values, to make the world safer and more democratic. There is an important decision, moving to another subject here, whether to formally accept Cyprus into the European Union. Will that take place even if a settlement is not reached on the divided island? Well, in 1999 we made a very important decision in Helsinki, the 15 leaders of the European Union. We said we all want Cyprus to come into the European Union as a country which is unified and has solved the problem between the two communities, and we have no more troops from the Turkish side, from Turkey. However, we also said that if that is not possible, this would not be a prerequisite, and that we would make every effort, of course, for peace and we still are. As a matter of fact, in the next few months Secretary-General Kofi Annan will be making very important efforts to try to get a solution before December in Copenhagen. If not, I think what we’ll have to do is continue, immediately afterward, to try to get a solution on Cyprus, so that the Turkish-Cypriot community can be part, not only of the new constitution, a new constitution in Cyprus, but also part of the European Union. Do you take the threat seriously by Turkey that it will annex the northern half of the island if membership is granted without a deal? Well, this has been mentioned at times by certain Turkish leaders, [but] we hope that this is not the case. As we see that, in the long term, Cyprus should become a showcase of cooperation between Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots, and I would say between Greece and Turkey, where these two communities can and should live together in peace, within a democratic European Union, where everyone’s right is respected, rights are respected, and where we will have very positive results for Turkey itself, and of course for the Turkish Cypriots. Being part of this union, having all the economic benefits from being part of this union, stability, and the link between the Turkish Cypriots, the European Union and Turkey. Turkey is looking for a commitment to begin formal negotiations to join the EU itself. Do you believe there has been enough progress on improving human rights there and political reforms to grant that request? Well, the EU Commission will be coming out soon with a report on the progress that Turkey has made, certainly they’ve made a very important decision, a number of decisions this summer in their Parliament. Whether that’s enough, that’s something the Commission will come out and say, I think there are certain steps they have to continue to do and to implement. But that does not mean that in December we cannot give a positive response to Turkey, in making sure that it does have a prospect, a European prospect. And Greece is one of the countries, I think maybe one of the more adamant countries, in trying to help Turkey on its European path, and we will be working both within the European Union and with our Turkish counterparts to help them on this European path. We think a European Turkey is in our interest, in Europe’s interest, in Turkey’s interest, and I would say very symbolically, an important model for the Muslim world. Although Turkey is a secular country, the majority of its population is Muslim, and being a European democratic country, this I think is an important message to a wider Muslim world.

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