Washington, Skopje and Athens

The recent statement by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice – intimating that failure by Athens and Skopje to reach a mutually acceptable solution on the issue of the official name of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia would not hinder FYROM’s accession to NATO – caused some irritation but came as no surprise to the Greek government. It has been clear for many years now that the USA and Greece have certain diverging interests in the Balkans, but Washington has never concealed its true intentions on the issue of FYROM’s official name. It is worth remembering that the first step taken by George W. Bush when he was re-elected president in 2004 was to recognize the Balkan country as the «Republic of Macedonia,» despite Greece’s political sensitivities. Today, the USA is promoting Kosovo’s independence and is keen to reassure those in power in Skopje that such a development would not lead to the fragmentation of FYROM. In an attempt to boost the morale of FYROM’s regime, Rice made her unfortunate statement, which not only fails to consolidate the unity of this small Balkan state but is also irksome to the Greek people, government and political forces. Of course Washington has the right to shape and promote its policy through statements and initiatives, but it is not in a position to force developments in the face of reluctance. This is where Greece’s tolerance will be tested. Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis may have believed that frequent meetings in a cordial climate would serve to exercise a positive influence on US policy, at least on the issue of Skopje. If she did harbor such hopes, she was sorely mistaken. Indeed, Bakoyannis’s statement from Belgrade last Thursday showed clear annoyance. «In the final analysis, it is Greece and not the USA that borders FYROM… (so) it is in FYROM’s interests to resolve the outstanding issue with us,» she said. The matter has not been handled clumsily, as some maintain. Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis made it clear years ago that he would not agree to FYROM’s accession to the European Union or NATO before a mutually acceptable solution to the FYROM name problem was found. Of course there are going to be recommendations and pressure behind the scenes. Some will invoke Greek economic interests in FYROM. But such economic concerns will never outweigh state priorities. The entire problem involving FYROM is unfortunate but the stakes are political and are linked to Greece’s credibility, for the outcome will reveal whether the government’s stances on foreign policy issues have the requisite ballast. Greek governments have in the past behaved in a somewhat erratic manner when handling foreign affairs. But Greece cannot be expected to constantly be on its best behavior when faced with policies that are blatantly provocative and intransigent.

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