Test and opportunity

His way having been paved by Petros Molyviatis’s earlier visit to the United States, Costas Karamanlis is due to meet with President George W. Bush on May 20. The conservative government has taken pains to ease Washington’s previous doubts about Athens by bringing Greek policies closer to US positions – the ultimate aim being to strengthen strategic cooperation between the two countries. The White House has also shown interest in closer bilateral cooperation. In any case, bilateral ties are not now clouded by any major problems. The impact of ideology on Greek-US ties is ebbing, a shift that was highlighted in last year’s V-PRC poll. Some 76 percent of respondents said that it is in Greece’s interest to maintain close ties with the US. Notably, this view was also quite popular among those declaring themselves as being on the left and center-left of the political spectrum. Interestingly, 59 percent of those polled said that Athens must take American interests into consideration in making policy. Even so, a huge 89 percent have a negative view of the US president, a fact which confirms that the public does not allow its view of the current administration to get in the way of broader bilateral ties. The distinction also shows that the ideologically loaded attitude of the past (prompted by Washington’s backing of the military dictatorship and toleration of Turkish expansionism) has given way to a more pragmatic approach. Karamanlis’s visit to Washington will be both a test and an opportunity. On one hand, Washington will ask Karamanlis to pressure Cypriot President Tassos Papadopoulos – although it knows Athens can neither bypass Nicosia nor pressure it too much. On the other, the crisis in US-Turkish relations has left a geopolitical vacuum. Greece must exploit this in order to strengthen its international position, especially its leverage in the Greek-Turkish relationship.