|ATHENS, Monday, April 24, 2000
By COSTAS IORDANIDIS
The inertia that the electoral period imposed on foreign policy issues is over. The elections were held, PASOK renewed its mandate, and the Euro-American Left, which clearly supported Prime Minister Costas Simitis and Foreign Minister George Papandreou during the pre-election period, will probably resume its "recommendations" and "encouragements" urging Greece to make more goodwill gestures towards Turkey, display greater understanding toward Turkish-Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash's positions on the Cyprus issue and tackle problems in the Balkan peninsula.
It is highly unlikely that Papandreou, or any other foreign minister, would ever revise the fixed positions of Greek foreign policy merely on the basis of foreign leaders' compliments.
But if he is to deal with challenges on the international scene, Papandreou has to cooperate with the entire diplomatic service, which is the only mechanism for mapping out foreign policy. This, of course, does not mean that he does not have the right, as minister, to make reasonable use of extra-ministerial aides.
According to sources, Papandreou will use the opportunity of the trilateral meeting on May 2 in New York with his Turkish counterpart Ismail Cem and U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, in order to make clear that there can be no substantial improvement in Greek-Turkish relations unless Ankara displays clear will to find a political solution to the Cyprus problem.
The change of Greece's position on the issue of European-Turkish relations, which in essence refutes the policy of previous PASOK governments, was absolutely necessary and rightly initiated at the Helsinki summit. The rapprochement with Turkey and the signing of the nine accords on non-controversial issues was no doubt a step in the right direction. But this is where Greece's goodwill gestures towards Turkey should stop, and let the Turkish side take over. The foreign policy challenges, however, are not confined to Greek-Turkish relations and the Cyprus issue. They also involve the Balkans, where NATO's military intervention has destabilized a considerable part of the Balkan region.
Rather than resolving the Kosovo crisis, NATO's campaign has reinforced ethnic Albanians in the area and now poses a threat to the integrity of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. Furthermore, the erroneous American policy toward Serbia has consolidated Slobodan Milosevic's hold on power.
During the meeting (Friday and Saturday) of Serb opposition groups in Athens, the country's exiled crown prince Alexander Karadjordevic called for an end to "the sanctions which plague ordinary citizens and operate in favor of the mafia regime."
The U.S. however, insists on a fruitless policy, which probably means that when Bill Clinton and Albright retire in a few months, Milosevic will continue to oppress the Serbian population. The U.S. can, no doubt, afford to make mistakes in foreign policy, as they do not have to suffer the consequences. The Greek government, on the other hand, which ought to, and does, have a clearer perception of the situation, has to mobilize itself. It would, of course, be unwise to "revolt" against Washington, but expressing rhetorical reservations is not enough. Papandreou should, first, raise the issue of respect for Balkan borders before EU foreign ministers, by offering a resolution which will exclude the possibility of Kosovo's secession, safeguarding FYROM's unity. Second, he should insist on the removal of sanctions. Finally, he should point out the need to restore contact with Milosevic.
It is not certain whether such an attempt would be successful, but this does not mean that Greece should not try to involve itself. Stability in the Balkans is paramount. It involves the country's internal and external security as well as its financial interests in the region.