Washington, D.C. By Apostolos Zoupaniotis
U.S. Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burs had a “present” for Greek Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyiannis, before her departure for Greece; in a statement after their meeting at the Department of State, last Friday, he took a strong stand on the case of the island of Agios Efstratios, whose status was disputed by Turkey, stating that it is not a demilitarized region.
“We discussed this issue. It is evidently a very sensitive issue. However, it is a Greek island and there is no doubt about this. It is our clear impression that it is not demilitarized. Our position is that it is an issue for NATO that must try, if it can, to reach an arrangement to enable its exercises to go ahead and to have differences that may or may not exist there resolved, because it is very important for NATO to be able to carry out exercises and be present in all its territory, as well as in the Eastern Aegean,” he said.
Bakoyannis said on her part that issues of Greek concern were discussed. “We discussed the issue of Kosovo, we discussed the issue of Cyprus, we continued the discussion we had yesterday with Mrs. Rice on the issue of the name of Skopje (FYROM) and we made an overall briefing on Greek-Turkish issues and on the issues of the Aegean. It was a useful meeting, a meeting in which we had the opportunity of repeating Greek positions explicitly,” she said and added that she briefed Burns on the issue of Agios Efstratios.
Lastly, he mentioned that energy issues were also discussed, saying that “we discussed some very important issues for the future of Greece and for all the countries in the region and we wish to cooperate on this issue.”
A diplomatic source invited to assess Bakoyiannis’ two-day visit to Washington told GreekNews that ”Now the American political leadership understands in a more sensitive manner the Cyprus issue than it did in the past, since the 2004 referendum on a UN solution plan for Cyprus”.
The same source said the Greek FM had an indepth discussion on Cyprus with Burns, adding that the demolition of a wall at the end of the commercial Ledra street in Nicosia, by Cyprus President Tassos Papadopoulos, is a token of the gravity with which the Greek-Cypriot side attempts to create the preconditions for the restart of a dialogue towards a political settlement.
Bakoyiannis asked for the implementation of the July 8, Agreement which is the correct frame for resuming the negotiating process, the source noted.
Although Cyprus issue was not in the agenda of her talks with Condoleezza Rice, in statements to the press after the meeting, Bakoyiannis referred to the Cyprus problem noting that ”the position of the Greek and the Cypriot governments is that we pursue substantive progress for a well prepared procedure in the framework of the UN and on the basis of the Security Council resolutions.”
Noting that she believes this well prepared effort should be made in the framework of the agreement between Cyprus President Tassos Papadopoulos and former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan reached in Paris, in February last year, Bakoyiannis added that ”we encourage efforts aiming at the launching of talks in Cyprus and hope that we will have better results.”
State Department spokesman Sean McCormack, replying to relevant questions, commented on the content and the climate prevailing during the meeting held earlier in the day between Rice and Bakoyannis.
“They had a good meeting. The whole tone and tenor of the meeting was one that certainly reaffirmed and underlined the solid foundation of US-Greek relations. It was a very good, warm meeting. They have a very good rapport with one another. They covered a number of bilateral issues. They talked about the visa waiver program. They talked also about issues related to the — to ‘Macedonia’. Talked about NATO — right, I know you would have a different name for it — you would have a different name for it. We call it ‘Macedonia’. Also talked a little bit about Greek-Turkish relations. They talked a little bit about Kosovo,” McCormack said.
Asked to clarify what exactly was discussed in relation to Greek-Turkish issues, the American official said “the foreign minister (of Greece) just talked about over the past several months the tone and tenor of Greek-Turkish relations.”