OPINION

Convergence

The recent meeting between Greek Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis and US President George W. Bush at the White House carries special importance to Athens. This is not because there was some outstanding issue awaiting resolution during the high-level meeting, but rather because the event provided a symbolic confirmation that Greek-US ties are at a high point and that prospects for close cooperation on unresolved regional issues look good. Developments over the past year have removed any lingering signs of tension in Greek-US ties that may have been left by the conservative government’s refusal to give clear backing to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s reunification plan for Cyprus. Washington has finally come to realize that the Greek-Cypriot landslide no-vote to the proposed peace plan was a result of Annan’s poor handling of the issue, and it seems to acknowledge that the blueprint was harmful to Greek-Cypriots’ legitimate interests. Furthermore, the American administration is grateful to Athens for having given a nod to the use of military bases on Greek territory during the US-led campaign against Saddam – particularly at a time when Ankara blocked US efforts to get into Iraq from the north. Even on the FYROM name issue, Washington believes that Greece has maintained a constructive and pragmatic stance. The common denominator between these factors is the trouble-free bilateral ties between the two allies and Washington’s wish to see Athens consent to the US plans for former Yugoslav territory as well as Greek participation in Washington’s diplomatic initiatives in the Middle East. Greece has no reason to object to America’s plans provided that the solutions to the different Balkan disputes are viable. It has become evident by now that solutions, including to the FYROM name issue, can only come through American pressure. Political conditions have tilted Greek foreign policy interests closer to America’s policies. Athens, however, should make sure that the convergence takes place on the basis of a well-planned and comprehensive foreign policy plan. This is the only way to strengthen Greece’s ties with neighboring Balkan states and to ensure that the US mediates an improvement of Greek-Turkish ties and a workable settlement on Cyprus. If cooperation between Athens and Washington is limited to sporadic visits of Greek officials to Balkan states or cost-free statements that are not followed up by practical deeds, the currently favorable situation will be of little long-term benefit to our country.