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NATO: Greece Ready To Offer 'Discounts' For Widest-Possible Enlargement

Greece, one of the smallest members of NATO, has positioned itself in the current enlargement debate as one of the most ardent supporters of the widest expansion possible. Greece's ambassador to NATO, Vassilis Kaskarelis, told RFE/RL that Greece sees the enlargement process as contributing vitally to Europe's security, and is prepared to offer a "discount" to Bulgaria and Romania, which do not yet meet all NATO requirements. On the other hand, he said, there's not enough support among the allies for the idea of a similar discount for Albania and Macedonia.

Brussels, 23 September 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Although one of the smallest allies in NATO, Greece is also one of the most outspoken.

This is good news for the applicant countries, given that Greece's ambassador at the alliance's Brussels headquarters, Vassilis Kaskarelis, says Athens has from the very beginning championed the "broadest-possible enlargement."

Kaskarelis said Greece's ardent support for bold NATO enlargement stems from a belief that it is essential for the stability and security of Europe that "all European countries should, as soon as possible, participate both in NATO and the [European Union]." "We in Athens believe that it is essential nowadays with the dramatic changes that took place during the past 10 years to establish a kind of single safety area in Europe, which will include as many countries as possible, and if possible, all the European countries," Kaskarelis said.

Naturally, Greece also has its own, more specific regional-security concerns. This means, Kaskarelis said, that Athens has taken a particularly benevolent view of the Balkan applicants: Bulgaria, Romania, Albania, and Macedonia. He said Greece has worked hard to help those countries meet NATO standards. "Now, as I told you, we supported all the candidatures, but out of [the] nine countries, we supported especially the candidatures of the Balkan countries, among them Bulgaria and Romania. Being neighbors of those countries, being deeply involved in the area politically, financially, economically, and culturally, we strongly believe that by bringing these countries [into] NATO and the European Union, it will ameliorate the climate of cooperation and stability conditions in the region," Kaskarelis said.

Kaskarelis said that despite a "long history of problems" between Greece and neighboring Turkey, both NATO allies have cooperated closely on the issue, promoting in particular the case of the Balkan applicant countries.

This has not always been easy, Kaskarelis said, as not a single Balkan applicant meets all the political, economic, and military entry criteria set by NATO. He said there has been strong opposition to extending invitations to the Balkan applicants. Greece, however, has argued that certain "discounts" must be made. "Our point of view was that even if all the countries could not [meet] these criteria, we should 'make a discount,' to put it simply, because it is much more important for the stability in Europe, the security of Europe to have these candidate countries in NATO than to keep them out," Kaskarelis said.

Greece seems to have won the argument, at least partially. Kaskarelis said there is as yet no official consensus on which countries the alliance should invite to join at its Prague summit in November, but that, "unofficially," the probability is high that seven of the nine applicants will receive invitations.

This means Bulgaria and Romania are likely to be afforded their discounts, but Albania and Macedonia not. "You might ask me why we made the distinction between Romania and Bulgaria [on the one hand] and Albania and [Macedonia on the other]. It's that Albania and [Macedonia] -- which, I repeat, we are also deeply involved [with] trying to assist them in all fields to overcome the problems that they have and to establish democratic processes, human rights, the economic field, and everywhere -- they have to do some more work. As far as we are concerned, we could accept them tomorrow. But the vast majority of the allies has drawn a line saying that they don't meet the criteria, but [still] they are close, much closer than the others," Kaskarelis said.

But, Kaskarelis warned, invitations to join NATO are "just the beginning" for Bulgaria and Romania, too. They will have to continue working hard to meet NATO's membership criteria. Kaskarelis said this is "normal," however, noting that Greece itself is involved in this "constant, very long" process to keep pace with NATO's evolving standards.

Kaskarelis said that in the longer term, "all European nations" should be included in NATO's political and security structures. This, he said, goes, among others, for Georgia, whose president last week reiterated his wish to take his country into NATO.

Kaskarelis said closer relations with Russia are a part of this wider European engagement policy, adding that Greece has for a long time argued for upgrading NATO's relations with Moscow. As he said, "You cannot talk about security and stability in Europe without cooperating closely with Russia."