Awaiting the new ambassador

Washington’s role is crucial in a number of regional issues which are of direct or indirect interest to Greece and will be coming into the spotlight in the near future. The Athens-Washington relationship – which is free of pending issues – will become increasingly important as developments are expected on various fronts, such as the name of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), the Kosovo crisis and later the Cyprus question. The new American ambassador to Athens, Daniel Speckhard, was earlier this week expected to present his objectives to the US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, which is charged with approving his appointment. Speckhard, expected in Athens in late November, is familiar with European affairs and as such will have a clear picture of Greece’s interests, especially as he has served in NATO as deputy assistant secretary-general for political affairs and director of policy planning. Furthermore, he has also served as NATO’s special envoy to FYROM and worked hard for the country’s stability, so he is well aware of the particularities of the name issue and the complexity of the Balkan puzzle. From his stint in Brussels, he also knows all about the periodic tensions between Athens and Ankara that arise from Turkey’s territorial claims. His term in Athens may prove successful if he embraces the promises made by Nicholas Burns, now undersecretary of state for political affairs, that the US would use its influence in Skopje as the name question enters the final straight. It will also prove successful if he accepts the Athens-Moscow energy deal and, on the Cyprus front, makes it clear that the Annan plan is a thing of the past and that the solution to the problem lies in supporting the July 8, 2006, agreement. Meanwhile, bilateral relations will also be greatly assisted when Greeks receive a visa waiver for travel to the US. This framework will contribute to a constructive three-year period in Greek-American relations, but also to Speckhard’s own career. The conciliatory manner in which Athens conducts its foreign relations and its stabilizing role in Southeast Europe – with the political support of its neighbors and the significant role in plays in regional economies – will facilitate Speckhard’s work. It is up to Daniel Speckhard to prove himself an effective ambassador and he can achieve this if he keeps himself out of the limelight (he may take his cue from the discreet presence of his predecessor Charles Ries) and avoids such uncouth «interventions» as we have seen from time to time in the past, but also by displaying the necessary respect for Greek sensitivities.