Monday, December 03, 2007

Burns: Greece a 'crucial strategic ally' of the US

US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns called Greece a "strategic ally" of the United States, and outlined the common values and historical bonds between the two countries, while also lauding the role of the Greek American community, during a hearing on "US-Greece Relations and Regional Issues" in the House of Representatives foreign affairs committee's subcommittee on Europe in the US Congress on Wednesday.

Burns, a former US ambassador to Greece and the number three man in the US State Department, referred also to the FYROM name issue and US-Greece cooperation on such matters as nuclear arms non-proliferation, trafficking in persons, and environmental protection, with a special reference to the recent devastating wildfires in Greece and in the state of California.

On Kosovo, Burns said that the US was working towards a definitive settlement of the final status of the region, and backed the Ahtisaari plan, which he said provides for supervised independence for Kosovo, adding that in the event that an agreement was not achieved in the next two rounds of negotiations, which end on December 10, the US and other countries would not back further continuation of the talks and would "take their decisions" on the matter.

He also noted the progress in the procedures for including Greece in the US's visa waiver programme, stressing that the relations between the two countries were the best they have been in decades. "We have excellent relations with the prime minister Mr. (Costas) Karamanlis and the foreign minister Ms. (Dora) Bakoyannis, and we are grateful to both for their strong support for a closer US-Greek alliance," he said.

Burns added that the two countries were working together to promote peace and stability in Greece's neighbourhood, as well as in the wider Middle East "and beyond".

"We know that we can count on our Greek friends and allies, we know that we can face these challenges and that Greece can rely on us," he added.

Replying to questions by members of the subcommittee, Burns said that Greece was a "crucial strategic ally, with which the US fought together in all the major wars of the 20th century".

"Greece is a partner of the US in the front against global terrorism and contributes to the NATO effort in Afghanistan", while "it is also a key country, with strategic importance and deep knowledge of the developments in the Balkans, and a main investor" in Albania, FYROM and Serbia.

To a question on terrorism, Burns said that this was one of the issues that had been of concern in Greek-American relations. He stressed that Greece's efforts had produced a "dramatic improvement", referring the Greek authorities' disbanding of the 'November 17' and 'ELA' terrorist groups which, he noted, had killed members of the US (diplomatic) mission, while most of the victims of those organisations had been Greek citizens, among them the husband of the current foreign minister Bakoyannis (then ruling New Democracy party MP Pavlos Bakoyannis).

The two countries, he continued, are partners in Afghanistan, adding, however, that Greece should examine the prospect of stepping up the efforts in the southern and eastern parts of Afghanistan against the Taliban, with additional forces.

On the Cyprus issue, Burns reaffirmed that the US supported the efforts of the UN for a solution of the Cyprus problem on the basis of a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation.

On FYROM, Burns said that it should not be "refused an invitation for NATO membership on any grounds save that of failure to fulfill the fundamental entry criteria".

He said that certain quarters in Greece were raising the prospect of a veto regarding an invitation to 'Macedonia' if the name issue is not resolved.

"Although the US agrees on the importance of resolving the name issue, it does not believe that only the difference over the name constitutes a reason for obstructing 'Macedonia's' accession to international organisations," he said, adding that the US supports the UN-brokered process under the UN secretary general's special mediator on the FYROM name issue Matthew Nimetz, and implementation of the 1995 Interim Agreement between the two countries which he said allowed 'Macedonia's' membership in regional and international organisations with the name of FYROM.

Burns also called on Skopje to display the necessary flexibility, noting Greece's sensitivities, which he said FYROM should take into consideration.

He further referred to what he called the "visionary policy" of Greek Prime Minister Karamanlis regarding Greek-Turkish relations, noting that there was no need for any US mediation between Athens and Ankara whatsoever, since relations between the two countries were steadily improving.

Burns also expressed his support for the re-opening of the Halki School of Theology and the need forf the Ecumenical Patriarch to freely exercise his duties, noting that the US governments of George Bush and his prede

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