OPINION

Annapolis presents great opportunities

With its participation at the Middle East summit in Annapolis, Maryland, Greece is trying to show that it has a regional role to play. The conference presents an opportunity for Greece to demonstrate that it is not introverted and that it cares about the bigger problems of this world and wishes to contribute to their resolution. Greece illustrated this potential last year by helping evacuate civilians from the war zone in Lebanon, by participating in the Rome summit in July, by taking the initiative as president of the UN Security Council in September 2006 to call the first foreign ministers meeting on the Middle East peace process in 30 years, and again today by participating in Annapolis. Only by having such an energetic presence and making a meaningful contribution – political, economic and military – can Greece earn the right to demand a similar response to the issues topping its own agenda. Hopes are that Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis will take advantage of her presence at the conference to promote Greece’s potential role in the Middle East, based on its peacekeeping efforts and investments and its overall stabilizing influence in its own backyard. The recent announcement of specific measures for the Western Balkans confirms Greece’s leading role in the region, with all that this entails for the future of negotiations over the name of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. The head of the Greek diplomatic mission was invited to Annapolis after Athens argued that its presence would help maintain the balance with Ankara, which is also present at the conference. Turkey’s role in the Middle East is an important one, and not just because it is a neighbor – the recent visits to Ankara of the presidents of Israel and the Palestinian Authority are ample proof. Greece must move along the same lines. It must revive a proposal made by former Foreign Minister Petros Molyviatis to US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to hold an international meeting of all interested parties either in Athens or on some Greek island, such as Crete or Rhodes, which is equipped with the necessary infrastructure. Bakoyannis’s visit to Annapolis will not produce the desired effect on public opinion since the Greek media will be on strike on the day of the conference. But in foreign affairs the objective is not to create a positive public image for a day, but a long-lasting, meaningful policy. Greece has the opportunity to make a mark on the geopolitical map of the wider Middle East region. If it seizes this chance it will certainly not fail to draw the attention of the media or, more importantly, of the biggest players in the international community, whose help Greece may be seeking in the near future.