OPINION

Prudence

Prime Minister Costas Simitis’s visit to the US capital takes place at a crucial period for our national issues as new hopes surface along with old threats. The launch of the euro currency gives Simitis the opportunity to appear before US President George W. Bush not as the representative of a problem-ridden Balkan region but as one of the leaders of the world’s biggest blocs of economic prosperity and democracy. On the other hand, Ankara’s recent demands over the status over the Aegean Sea have put a period of rapprochement in Greek-Turkish relations into question and have forced the prime minister to rethink the level of prudence and determination required for promoting our legitimate national interests. It is beyond doubt that the coming months will see efforts by Turkey’s military and political elite to generate a controllable degree of tension. This is because our neighbor is faced with an unfavorable confluence of factors – the nascent Euroforce, the potential of a US intervention in Iraq, which could reopen the Kurdish case and, above all, Cyprus’s course toward EU membership in 2004. In this light, Turkey is obviously trying to blackmail the Europeans, issuing threats of a major crisis in the Eastern Mediterranean region and trying to extract US aid by promoting itself as NATO’s ideal beachhead in the broader region of Central Asia, the Caucasus and the Middle East, replacing Iran. For his part, Simitis is clearly trying to keep a low profile and to avoid getting caught in the trap of escalating tension and asking US mediation for the resolution of Greek-Turkish disputes. The bitter experience from the previous four decades demonstrates that this path is non-productive. On the contrary, the prime minister ought to – and it appears certain that he will – make it clear to Washington and Brussels that he is not trying to blackmail anyone in order to satisfy any ‘Greek demands,’ but is rather defending common European interests and universal values of the Western world. In this context, prudence and flexibility have nothing to do with the logic of appeasement; Western democracies have in the past paid a heavy price for this logic. Rather, they intend to strengthen the country’s diplomatic and political foundations so as to tackle new challenges and punish new provocations. In plain words, Bush’s interest is confined to the war on terrorism, and he has invited Simitis to Washington in order to explore Greece’s willingness to cooperate in both its global and local dimensions, which means that he expects to see specific Greek action to disrupt the November 17 terrorist organization.