Bush administrationʼs silent acknowledgment of its failure to blackmail Athens over NATO veto
Athens.- With the U.S. election over and the Republican administration almost out of the White House, to keep Greece out of the visa waiver program doesnʼt serve any purpose for the Bush Administration. A wire service story on Friday quoting a top US official in Brussels as saying Washington wants to include more countries in the US visa waiver program before the upcoming Jan. 20 administration changeover generated increased scrutiny in Athens, given that Greece was prominently left out of the recent batch of inductees.
Speaking in the Greek capital, a US embassy spokesperson pointed to comments made this week by US envoy Daniel Speckhard, namely, that bilateral negotiations are continuing and that the process is proceeding.
The spokesperson said US diplomats again met with Greek foreign ministries officials this week on the specific matter — EU member-state Greece’s inclusion in the programme for visa-free travel to the United States.
According to the US side, three documents are still under discussion: a memorandum of understanding; an agreement on information-sharing regarding terrorists, and a similar text on information-sharing on convicted criminals.
Talks are progressing, and substantial progress has been made,” the spokesperson said in echoing previous embassy comments.
According to a Reuters dispatch from Brussels on Friday, US Dept. of Homeland Security official Jackie Bednarz said “…it is our objective to admit additional countries before the change in the US administration.”
Beginning on Monday, citizens of six former eastern bloc countries and previous Soviet republics — the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania and Slovakia — along with long-time US ally South Korea, will be able to travel to the United States without a visa, provided they fill-out an electronic form via the Internet.
Asked about a “time frame” for completing talks with the Greek government, the US embassy spokesperson merely noted that a completion “cannot be ruled out before the end of the year, if not, then in 2009.”
On October 18, Greek Ambassador to the United States Alexandros Mallias had conveyed to US President George W. Bush Athens’ discontent with Washington’s refusal to abolish visa requirements for Greeks traveling to the United States, citing “political reasons”. U.S. officials speaking to Greek Americans perceived a linkage to Athens’ veto earlier this year of FYROM’s bid to join NATO over the countries’ name dispute.
European Commission (EC) reaction to exclusion of EU members warned its readiness to take punitive measures against the United States if Washington fails to meets its commitment.