Simitis in Washington

Prime Minister Costas Simitis welcomed the New Year in the unfriendly and cold environment of the Bank of Greece, triumphantly demonstrating the new euro notes that are replacing the drachma in what is a major and modern achievement. The impression that Greece has joined the hard core of Europe has gained new ground, and the view has been reinforced that the country must transcend its national rigidities and tackle its existing problems within a broader European framework. Given this, Simitis will be visiting Washington and encountering US President George W. Bush not as the prime minister of a country with special problems stemming from its geographical position, regional particularities and problem-ridden neighbors, but rather as a self-designated European leader. It would be unfair to question the intentions of the prime minister’s aides who are trying to enhance the national significance of a rather difficult trip that coincides with the completion of the first decisive phase of the US-led campaign in Afghanistan and in view of a potential broadening of the global front against terrorism. And it would undoubtedly be preferable if the Washington talks took place on the broader basis of Euro-Atlantic concerns. But Bush is no academic contemplating the progress of humanity. Rather, he is a politician who must act under pressure in the wake of the September 11 terrorist assault. 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. Simitis will not have the opportunity, nor would it be wise, to pose various alternative European ideas on these issues; nor can he limit himself to rhetorical reassurances. Simitis will fully harmonize himself with the US regardless of the possible repercussions on his image amid the broader left. Similarly, Simitis ought to raise several anachronistic but still outstanding issues of Greece’s foreign policy, that is the Cyprus issue and Turkey’s stance on the Aegean Sea dispute. Athens’s rapprochement with Ankara on low-key political issues was an imperative and Greece’s consent on strengthening Turkey’s ties with the EU was a correct move as well, but neither Greek-Turkish relations nor the Cyprus problem can be decisively dealt with by referring them to the EU’s attention. The Greek public is expecting that Simitis will, as prime minister, concentrate his efforts on promoting these anachronistic issues that remain crucial for regional stability and national survival until, in the long term, the whole of Europe and Turkey are all part of a unified European family. In an extremely rare occurrence, heavy snowfall on the Cycladic islands of Serifos and Andros caused half a dozen villages to be cut off. The same happened on Naxos, and in several parts of Crete. About 150 villages all over Greece were thus afflicted.

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