Baptism of fire

Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis returned from the United States having survived his baptism of fire in foreign-policy issues: first, the Buergenstock negotiations on the UN’s Cyprus reunification plan, then his successful meeting with his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Athens and, finally, his crucial talks with George W. Bush. Dashing the expectations of commentators close to the State Department, the US president’s statement failed to spark a crisis over the Olympic Games or Cyprus. This does not mean that Greece’s crucial foreign-policy issues have been resolved – which is no bad thing. The haste of former Prime Minister Costas Simitis and his foreign minister, George Papandreou, to settle outstanding issues could only end up damaging our national interest. Simitis and Papandreou, his successor at the helm of the socialist PASOK party, repeatedly criticized Cyprus President Tassos Papadopoulos’s public condemnation of UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s peace plan for Cyprus. Unlike Simitis, Papandreou and those who shared their viewpoint, the American president expressed his appreciation for Karamanlis, as the Greek premier was the first to give him a realistic picture of Greek Cypriots’ feelings about the UN blueprint. Bush’s remarks implied that the White House had been misled – but this is not something that should preoccupy the Greek administration. No doubt the US administration will provide – as it has already said – assistance to the Turkish-Cypriot community in the north of the divided island. It may also raise the American flag in its long-established liaison office there. But Washington would never recognize the entity set up in the aftermath of the Turkish invasion of the island. Bush appears to have realized that Annan’s proposed solution was more responsive to Turkish-Cypriot demands and that this was the reason the Greek Cypriots turned it down. As far as Olympics security is concerned, Bush delivered a firm vote of confidence in the Games by announcing that his father will be heading the US delegation. To be sure, a number of outstanding issues remain, such as whether the US Olympic team will be escorted by their own armed security guards. The Greek government is expected to give its consent. The Americans have such a big stake in Olympic Games preparations that the above question becomes secondary, and pointless. What is of essence is that Karamanlis and Foreign Minister Petros Molyviatis have promoted a new style in the handling of foreign-policy issues, maintaining a low profile, avoiding being much in the public eye, and without inflating achievements. The knee-jerk reactions and shower of public relations exercises of Simitis and Papandreou are now history. So is the illusory picture painted by the propaganda apparatus of the former administration and its self-styled analysts. Karamanlis’s modest public demeanor inspires confidence among foreign and Greek citizens. However, those addicted to motion for the sake of it mistake the lack of noise for political inactivity. Let them be left to their comfortable illusions.

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