“A Greek You Can Understand” Interview with George A Papandreou, Foreign Minister of Greece

“India’s role in Asia, its relations with its neighbours are of great interest to us. One other area which is newer is the new technology issues, where India has manpower of a high calibre.”

By Siddharth Varadarajan
The Times of India

ATHENS: Greek foreign minister since 1999 and before that alternate minister of foreign affairs from 1996, George A Papandreou has been instrumental in building a higher profile for his country internationally. The son of Andreas Papandreou, former prime minister of Greece – who, along with Indira and Rajiv Gandhi, was part of the Initiative of the Six’ for a global reduction of nuclear weapons – he once came to Delhi with his father. On the eve of his first official visit to India, he spoke with Siddharth Varadarajan about a number of international issues that are currently close to both countries:

Q: What is on your agenda during this visit?
A: Our relations have traditionally been very warm; we must enhance these at all levels – political, economic and financial, and also cultural. We have similar thinking in many areas, which makes it more interesting to work together. As we move into a more globalised economy, political issues of all regions become interconnected. Therefore, issues in our region – the Balkans, Mediterranean, Black Sea – are all of great interest to India. Similarly, India’s role in Asia, its relations with its neighbours, are of great interest to us. One other area which is newer is the new technology issues, where India has manpower of a high calibre.

With Bush as US president, do some of the policies that he has been espousing – on missile defence – worry you?
The whole concept of missile defence is something which brings up a number of concerns about the possibility of the creation of a new sense of insecurity in the world. Technological developments might have made this ideal more feasible but the political ramifications are not certain- whether this will create a more secure world or a sense of fear, and escalation of armed productions on the part of other countries. So I think there is some scepticism on these ideas in general, not only in Greece but in Europe as well.
The US claims it must defend itself from the threat of missile attacks from `rogue states’.

The policies of the EU (on missile defence) are conservative. The programme could create greater tension with other countries like Russia. We had similar experiences during the Cold War, where one move provokes another from the other side. We wouldn’t want a similar situation now.

New missile technology has created new fears – they are more accurate, long range. But how you deal with it – whether you try to create an umbrella which changes the balance of power – is an equally crucial issue because of the possible reaction and escalation from others. In Europe we are developing a regional security situation, of common security rather than a `one against another’ kind of concept, and this could break this down as a result.

Q: The US has cautioned the EU on its separate defence initiative. Do you see EU defence plans leading to the down playing of NATO’s centrality and the reduction of US influence in Europe?

A: I think there will be a new complementarity. We have stressed that this plan is not against anyone. It is to provide greater support for initiatives that Europe can take on its own. But certainly we are seeking the cooperation of the US and other NATO countries who may not be in the EU. In certain areas where we have had problems in our region – Kosovo and the former Yugoslavia, for example – one thing that has provoked this new EU initiative is that the Europeans have been seen as inefficient and unable to deal with crises on their own continent. Secondly, although Greece would not have a problem with a much more rigorous form of EU defence, today we are talking about specific tasks – peacekeeping, crisis management, humanitarian operations. So this EU army of approximately 60,000 soldiers would be for these types of tasks. It would be under the auspices of UN Security Council resolutions and could be deployed in other parts of the world as well.

Q: In purely military terms, if there had been an EU army in place during, say, the Kosovo crisis, would things have been different? Would Yugoslavia still have been bombed? Also, would Greece – which disagreed with NATO strategy – find its concerns again been put on the side?
A: We would have to go back to how decisions are taken in NATO, but in the EU, the 15 member states have equal say on similar operations irrespective of size. Now, you may find yourself in the majority or minority, or sometimes alone. This happens in the EU with many countries and then you have to make a political decision as to whether you will maintain your position or go along with the majority. On the Kosovo war, we said we had our reservations on the issue of bombing but we did not stop this decision as we were the only country that had these reservations.

If there were a new conflict, Europe would have the ability to make autonomous political decisions. But it would work very closely with its allies outside, especially to use NATO assets. In future, this concept may also grow into a defensive operation for Europe itself, for defending Europe…

Q: From whom? Where is the threat?
A: Hopefully none, but this may develop.

Q: There is some concern in India about US reports of cooperation between Pakistan and Turkey on the nuclear issue. Is this something which worries Greece?

A: I have seen reports and articles but have not seen any specific information on the development of these programmes. But as a principle, we are against nuclear proliferation. Secondly, we would not like to see nuclear escalation in this region. Certainly, it would be alarming if one of our neighbours developed this. Now that we are in a period of trying to lower tensions with our neighbours, particularly Turkey, it would have a very negative effect. So we would share India’s concerns on any further nuclear proliferation.

Q: Like India and Pakistan, Greece and Turkey are considered implacably hostile neighbours. Yet you have worked hard to improve relations. Are you satisfied with the way Greek-Turkish relations are developing?

A: In the last year, a new path has been opened. This is a product of the desire of the peoples of both countries. This came out very dramatically during the earthquakes which took place in Turkey last year and then Greece. The response of people was quite moving. A political message came out of the humanitarian response, that people want peace and that the two governments should begin to work together more seriously. There are still quite big problems which remain – Cyprus, for example – but what we have decided to do is build a basis of trust slowly but surely on issues of common interest. We signed 10 accords last year on tourism, environment, culture, etc. That was quite a breakthrough considering it was 14 years after accords were last signed by us. Trade has doubled in one year, so there is a strong economic basis for good relations.