The Greek Press Today
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06 February, 2008
Deputy Foreign Minister Yiannis Valinakis on Tuesday held talks with Assistant Secretary for Policy Development Richard C. Barth of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security regarding Greece's request to be included in the modernized U.S. Visa Waiver Program.
This is the second delegation from the U.S. Departments of State and Homeland Security to visit Athens and will hold further talks with officials at the foreign, interior and justice ministries on February 4-5.
“Our consular and immigration experts reported back very favourably on their visit to Greece last November, so I’m delighted to be in Athens to talk about next steps toward the VWP for our two countries,” Barth is quoted by saying in a U.S. Embassy announcement issued on Tuesday regarding the visit.
“We look forward to continuing these discussions with our Greek counterparts,” he added. “If our bilateral contacts continue to go well, I hope we can implement the VWP in Greece sometime in 2008.”
The announcement also noted that Greece was the first and is so far the only country to have received a formal nomination to the modernized VWP since the Implementing Recommendations of the 9/11 Commission Act of 2007 became U.S. law last August 3.
The U.S. has now also begun discussions with all current participants regarding the modernized VWP, as well as with several other countries that wish to be considered for it in the future.
U.S. Ambassador in Athens Daniel Speckhard, addressing the Ambassador's forum conference organized on Tuesday by the foreign ministry's information service, in the presence of Deputy Foreign Minister Yiannis Valinakis, outlined his country's foreign policy, that included national security, global economy, environmental problems, energy security and, of course, Greek-American relations.
The American ambassador said that Greece has a very important role in the Balkans, adding that the United States looks forward to closer cooperation with Athens in this region.
Referring to the possibility of Greece exercising a veto for the accession of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) to NATO, he said that "NATO is an organization that operates on consensus, and the decisions on enlargement will be based on consensus. So, the need for accepting new members is that all existing members agree on that, so I think that’s a principle that’s accepted by everyone and has never come into question."
The ambassador added, however, that his country is encouraging both sides to find a mutually acceptable solution to FYROM's name issue.
Replying to a question whether Greece's energy rapprochement with Russia can have repercussions on Greek-American relations, Speckhard said: "No. I see the energy issue as just that, an energy issue related to a business approach, where the United States has been talking about the importance of ensuring that countries, for their energy security and the energy security of the broader European Union, have multiple supplies, or sources, multiple suppliers, and multiple routes. That’s just good practice for your energy security. That’s good business practice, and as I understand it, it’s actually the general energy policy that Greece is following. The United States is pleased that Greece wants good relations with Russia. The United States wants good relations with Russia. We’re pleased that you’re pursuing those, and I can assure you that we’re doing likewise. So this is not an issue where Greece has to choose between Russia and the United States. It’s more one that we’re trying to make sure that Greece is focusing on in the context of how you will ensure your energy security for future generations, and that aspect - you shouldn’t be surprised if there’s a natural tendency for some in the business world to want to be monopolists. It’s a real advantage to be a monopolist, and what we’re saying is that that’s not a good thing for Greece, for the interests of your people, or for the interests of the broader European continent. And we’re encouraging a policy which, again, I understand that Greece is following, of ensuring that they look for multiple sources, supplies and routes for their energy."
Responding to a question on who will guarantee that the independence of Kosovo will constitute a unique case, he said: "I think this issue of supervised independence is not something that the United States came up with. It came out of the Ahtisaari Plan which was a unified effort, sponsored by the international effort that had the UN blessing, and it was out of that process that they came up with the notion of supervised independence. I think if you look at the number of years that this has gone on, the way it has been done through an international process, it’s not a unilateral process but a multilateral process that led us to this point. I think that’s what gives you at least some greater assurances that it is not a precedent breaking case and, in that sense, Kosovo is unique."
Speckhard praised Greece's cooperation with the United States on issues of international terrorism and made favourable reference to the presence of the Greek delegation, under Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis, in Annapolis on the Middle East issue.
Referring, lastly, to the issue of the visa required of Greek citizens on their entry to the United States, he said that considerable steps have been taken by Greece and that the process for its abolition will be promoted in 2008.
Valinakis mentioned that respect for the principles of international law constitutes the main criterion of Greek foreign policy, which was confirmed with the visit to Ankara by Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis, with Greece's five-point proposal on the accession prospects of the countries of the Western Balkans and Greece's constructive participation in the negotiations regarding the name of FYROM, under the auspices of the UN secretary general.
Focusing on Greek-American relations, he expressed confidence that they will continue to develop and deepen on the firm basis of common values and for mutual benefit.
Foreign ministry spokesman George Koumoutsakos, who inaugurated the forum, said that such events "encourage public discussion in Greece on foreign policy issues."
Commenting, lastly, on relations between Greece and the United States in particular, he said that even though they did not always have an aligned upward trend, the general course of the index of Greek-American relations remains and is continuing to have an upward course.
Source: Athens News Agency