Growing rift

A quick check on the recent remarks by Greek Foreign Minister George Papandreou to US media on the Iraq crisis and the comments made yesterday by Greece’s Prime Minister Costas Simitis on the same subject in Alexandroupolis highlights the fact that the gulf separating their views has seriously widened. Papandreou has, to a large degree, adopted the American position on the need to topple Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, while the European Union has confined itself to calls for Baghdad’s disarmament. The Greek premier, on the other hand, was overtly critical of Washington’s policy. His statement leaves no room for misinterpretation. Simitis said, «Interests, aspirations to dominate, aspirations to control and manipulate the world are always alive and are particularly pronounced at this moment.» Simitis made sure that he left no room for misunderstanding by making it clear where the EU stands on this. This is a step forward when compared to the decision of the recent EU summit. And given that a prime minister should never speak without a purpose, we have to place special weight on his remarks. This is even more so in the light of Athens’s EU presidency. In effect, this was a critique on Washington policy, although there was no clear reference to the US factor. It is not certain whether Simitis made this comment in an attempt to correct previous remarks by his foreign minister. But they could certainly be interpreted that way. In any case, the divergence between the prime minister and Papandreou, as we have already said, is a fact. Yesterday, an opinion poll conducted by the European Commission (Eurobarometer) was released which said that 73 percent of Greeks believe that the USA plays a negative role as regards international peace. The figures are similar as concerns America’s perceived role on issues such as the protection of the environment, the fight against poverty and so on. It is no coincidence that the foreign minister’s aides are concerned over the public’s perception of a pro-American bias in the ministry. For the time being, this does not seem to have had any negative repercussions on opinion polls but this may well change if the rift widens, catapulting this factor onto center stage.

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