Friday, 15 June 2007

Greece and Fyrom 'Should Talk'

Nicholas Burns, US undersecretary of state for political affairs, was in Athens to commemorate the 60 years of the Marshall Plan last week. The Athens News caught up with him during the last ten minutes of his stay, in the Athens Airport VIP lounge

Eighty-two percent of Greeks were recently polled as being against induction of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (Fyrom) into Nato even under that temporary name. What would happen if the Greek government next year decided domestic pressure was overwhelming and felt it had to veto Fyrom's entry? 

I understand the sensitivities of the Greek public. Our hope is that this issue can be resolved by the UN mediation with Ambassador Matthew Nimetz, by direct talks between Athens and Skopje. The UN's is the leading role. If the US can be helpful, it certainly will, because we want to see this problem taken off the agenda, if it's possible, to the satisfaction of both parties. 

But I really do think it's also precipitous, because Nato has not made a decision to bring in Macedonia. Nato will not even debate that question, I believe, until the early part of 2008, so there's no reason why this should complicate current politics and there are many other issues that have to be dealt with in the meantime.

What we've said consistently since 1995 is that there is a UN process. We hope it can succeed. We're fully supportive of that. We will be active ourselves as a friend of Greece, as a friend of Macedonia. But, ultimately, the two sides have to talk as well. And, hopefully, a final result will be arrived at which is to the satisfaction of both countries. There's no crisis underway.

The issue of whether or not Macedonia comes in is a function of how hard they work. Right now there's more work needed by the Macedonian government. And there'll be 26 countries that will have to judge whether they've met the criteria that Nato has established for aspiring applicants. We believe that Croatia has, so the United States is supporting Croatia. Our hope is that Macedonia and Albania will be ready, but we have not yet made a decision that they are and we've advised them to work very hard on defence reform, on some of the rule-of-law reforms that are necessary, and to forestall corruption, and then we'll all take the temperature prior to the Bucharest Nato summit, likely to be held next April.

From a diplomatic perspective I think that's the proper way to proceed. That should lower the temperature and allow the two governments and the UN to work out - we hope - some kind of amicable solution.

But as well as a process you need to have the physics for an agreement. Currently, Fyrom is being recognised by more and more countries, so it doesn't seem to have the interest in an agreement, and Greece doesn't seem to have the leverage to force one.

We've told the Macedonian government that this is an important issue for Greece. We expect that Macedonia will negotiate seriously and work hard with the UN negotiator. So, the US position is that this is an issue that concerns our Nato ally Greece, therefore we'd like it to be resolved. 

There's an under-standable balancing act going on in offering Kosovo inde-pendence and Fyrom name recognition, and it shows a US ability and willingness to play a role in the Balkans, but Greece and Serbia perhaps don't see equal efforts to try and redress their concerns. 

I guess I don't agree with the question in that I don't see Greece as a disaffected party. We're a Nato ally. We have an excellent relationship with Greece. I don't see somehow that what we've done should be contrary to Greek interests. Now I understand that our position is fundamentally contrary to the Serb position on Kosovo itself. There's no question about that. 

What is the US doing to prevent an incursion into northern Iraq? 

The problem is not Turkey, the problem is the PKK [the Kurdistan Workers Party]. And for well over a year now the PKK has been launching attacks on the Turkish military and on Turkish civilians. It's a terrorist group. We don't deal with it and we are entirely sympathetic to Turkey when it comes to its dealings with the PKK. 

We do have an American envoy, appointed by President Bush, General Jo Ralston, whose job it is to help the Turks manage this problem. We do not want to see a cross-border invasion by Turkey. What we do want is to support Turkey diplomatically in defending itself against these attacks by the PKK, and therefore we would like to see greater efforts made by the Kurdish leadership in Iraq to dissuade the PKK from its present course. I think we have been the most active country. We've been extraordinarily active. And I think it's incumbent upon Europe to put the same pressure on the PKK, and that is to ask it to cease and desist from its terrorist actions.

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