Building ties: From Colin to Condy

When it comes to foreign policy, personal chemistry is of tremendous importance. George Papandreou and Dora Bakoyannis, two politicians that have long been on most people’s lists of likely candidates for prime minister, would be the first to admit this. Papandreou’s friendship with the late Turkish foreign minister Ismail Cem entailed a great deal of political risk, but it helped reduce tension in the Aegean after the Ocalan fiasco had seriously damaged bilateral ties. The close relationship between the two men sealed a cordial climate that fostered a series of economic cooperation deals. Similarly, Papandreou’s good ties with former US secretaries of state Madeleine Albright and Colin Powell allowed Greece to play a significant role in the Balkans, facilitated Cyprus’s bid to join the European Union and helped Greece’s EU presidency during the United States-led war against Iraq. In fact, Papandreou’s privileged relationship with his American counterpart outweighed Greece’s leverage in international affairs. The current foreign minister, Bakoyannis, would appear to be singing the same tune. After one year in the post, she has already met with Condoleezza Rice four times. Rice’s visit to Athens last year was the first by a State Department chief in years. There is a special chemistry between the two women that Bakoyannis has hardly tried to hide. The question, of course, is whether Greece has anything to gain from this. The late PASOK founder and prime minister Andreas Papandreou invested a great deal in the rhetoric of «multifaceted foreign policy.» But the gains were scant. The »Initiative of the Six» (Greece, India, Argentina, Mexico, Tanzania and Sweden), which urged the leaders of the superpowers to put an immediate halt to all nuclear weapon tests, his backing of Poland’s communist prime minister Wojciech Witold Jaruzelski and his warm embraces with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat might have pleased some people but did little to enhance Greece’s geopolitical or economic status. Such enhancement however could come through Greece becoming part of the international energy supply system, the country’s growing investment in the Balkans and a substantial involvement in one of the key issues of our time, namely the Middle East problem, in an attempt to capitalize on Greece’s positive image in the eyes of the Muslim world. What is needed is a multi-level foreign policy that will stimulate the interest of the major powers and yield tangible benefits for the country. The time has come for Bakoyannis to make use of her good relationship with Rice. The US official should have no problem backing Athens over the FYROM issue, particularly given Skopje’s NATO ambitions. In that way, their good chemistry would do service to the country and not just to Bakoyannis’s political career which, at the end of the day, leaves most Greeks unmoved.

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