Newsmaker: Greek Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis
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RAY SUAREZ: Earlier this month and exactly 100 days before the start of the Olympic Games in Greece, three timed bombs exploded outside an Athens police station. No one was injured, but the attack raised questions again about Greek security measures ahead of the summer games. The Prime Minister and other officials insisted the bombing was not linked to the games, but a group claiming responsibility issued a letter warning certain visitors to stay away this summer.
SPOKESMAN: The Olympic Games of the year 2004 is Athens.
RAY SUAREZ: In 1997, when the International Olympic Committee awarded the 2004 summer games to Greece, security was not the number one priority, but that changed after the 9/11 attacks. Planners in Athens budgeted more than $1 billion for security, almost four times what was spent in Sydney, Australia, four years ago. And the Greeks also called on their NATO allies for help. NATO will patrol the skies with jets and AWACS surveillance planes. And Greek troops are getting anti-terrorism training in drills like these. About 80,000 troops and police will be on hand for the two week long games in august. But some American athletes have still expressed safety concerns, and they have been warned not to wave American flags as they have in previous Olympics.
SERENA WILLIAMS, Tennis Player: If it became a real concern where I personally wouldn’t feel comfortable, then I wouldn’t go to Athens.
RAY SUAREZ: Security hasn’t been the only challenge for these games. Construction has been plagued by delays, and some of the venues are still unfinished. The glass and steel roof for the main Olympic stadium is still under construction; last week, half of it was moved into place.
Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis has had that and other regional issues to deal with, since he was elected to office in March. He led the conservative New Democracy Party to an unexpected victory ousting the ruling socialists. Karamanlis is 47-years old, and Greece’s youngest-ever prime minister. He comes from a political family; his Uncle Constantine was prime minister twice. Karamanlis was educated both in Greece and the U.S., at Tufts University in Boston.
One of the thorniest issues the new prime minister faces is the decades old dispute over the Mediterranean island of Cyprus. The ethnically Greek South is run by the internationally recognized Republic of Cyprus, while the ethnically Turkish North, with the backing of Turkey, seized control and partitioned the island. U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, with strong U.S. backing, proposed a settlement to Cypriot leaders this spring, but it was rejected in a referendum. Greek Cypriots voted against the plan, Turkish Cypriots voted for it. That result went against the advice of the Athens government, which has been healing relations with Turkey. President Bush welcomed Prime Minister Karamanlis to the White House yesterday. I spoke with him earlier today.
RAY SUAREZ: Mr. Prime Minister, welcome.
COSTAS KARAMANLIS: Thank you very much for your hospitality, Mr. Suarez.
RAY SUAREZ: When the United States invaded Iraq, there was a different Greek government in office. Now that your party is in power, is there a different policy toward the American project in Iraq, and did you have any message to bring President Bush in that regard?
COSTAS KARAMANLIS: Let me start out by saying that I think that we have succeeded in Greece, at least as far as foreign policy is concerned, not to have very strong partisan feelings, strifes and conflicts. So basically on foreign policy we follow a common strategy.
That doesn’t mean that we don’t have minor disagreements on tactical moves or events, but basically we share the same basic outlook. Now, this hasn’t changed on the Iraqi question as well. We had a very interesting discussion with President Bush on many issues, including the one you mentioned, and we hear from President Bush his views on that.
On our behalf, our basic position is that one should stick as much as possible to the transition process, so that as soon as possible we have a full democratization, a full transition of power to the Iraqi people. And of course we all share a burden in the responsibility to help in reconstructing Iraq. And, in our view, it would be the best scenario that all this would happen under the auspices … under the umbrella of the United Nations, because we believe, we deem that this would offer the maximum legitimization of that process.
RAY SUAREZ: Changing the subject, in recent weeks, three bombs were detonated outside a police station in Athens. The world’s eyes will be on Greece soon, with the opening of the Olympic Games. What reassurances can you make to the world about security for the upcoming games?
COSTAS KARAMANLIS: Yes, I understand very much the concern of everybody. And let me just say, if other people voice concerns and think about security, this is the prime responsibility and concern of our own people and my government. We are having the games, and we have to do everything possible to secure safe games.
Now one thing I would like to say is we have invested a tremendous amount of effort, funds, professional people, and energy in this direction. More than $1.2 billion have been invested in security preparation. This is, if I may say so, 30 times the equivalent of the Atlanta games, and more than three times the equivalent of the Sydney games only four years ago. Above that, we have 70,000 professional people involved directly with security, seven nations among our allies.
First and foremost, the U.S., but of course, the UK, France, Germany, Britain; as I said, Spain, Israel and Australia participate in what we label as the Olympic advisory group, where they offer an extremely important and useful expertise and experience in dealing with security questions. And of course as soon as we came to power, we were sworn in office, my government asked officially for the assistance and participation of NATO in the security preparations which is already underway. So what I am trying to say is that we are doing everything humanly possible to ensure safe games. And I really feel very confident, at this point of time, to say that the games will be both successful on the athletic and cultural level, and also safe and secure.
RAY SUAREZ: Let’s talk about the completion of the facilities. Is it possible to finish everything that Greece has to finish by the time the procession marches into the stadium on opening day?
COSTAS KARAMANLIS: Yes, it is, Mr. Suarez. It is true that there was a late start in the beginning of the preparation, but throughout the last years, and particularly after March 2004, we have speeded up very much the process and the works are moving in a very fast pace now. 90 percent of the preparations is already in place, and the 10 percent, which remains will be in place by June. So we are certain everything will be ready in terms of facilities, venues, works, et cetera.
RAY SUAREZ: Let’s talk a little bit about Cyprus. Part of the island of Cyprus became a member of the European Union in the past few weeks, but not all of Cyprus– a very difficult position not only for the European Union, but certainly for Greece, no?
COSTAS KARAMANLIS: Let me put it that way. It is true that we all wanted a unified Cyprus to get in the European Union. But on the other hand, since a referenda were provided for, one has to respect the outcome of it, the will of the people. That’s the reality. Now the basic point I would like to transmit is, okay, we have this development, what do we do now? We consider that as the end of the rope? Do we accept de facto separation? I strongly suggest no, we shouldn’t because this is a lose/lose situation for everyone involved. We strongly believe that new efforts should be undertaken so as to get closer to the final goal, which is reunification of the island. Now I am not saying it is easy. If it were easy, it would have happened already in the past, in the recent past, but I strongly argue that we shouldn’t give up. Eventually, a reunified island is to the benefit of everybody involved, and particularly the Greek Cypriot and the Turkish Cypriot population on the island.
RAY SUAREZ: Does the continuing problem in Cyprus now create other impediments that perhaps weren’t anticipated to eventual Greek entry into the EU; to eventual strong-friendly relations between Turkey and Greece who are after all NATO members as well? Do things become more complicated for Greece and Turkey because of the Cypriot problem?
COSTAS KARAMANLIS: One thing, Greece is a member state, full member state for the last 25 years of the EU, and we deem ourselves as being front-runners of the European Project, the European vision. Greek-Turkish relations have been improving steadily throughout all these last years.
We have made a decision to support Turkish European perspective. I think this is a basic strategic decision founded on a basic premise, which is what does one prefer? A neighbor which is prosperous, democratic, Europeanized, if I may use the word, or a neighbor who is alienated, isolated, feels rejected by the European family? I think the answer is clear. On the other hand, we have a government in Turkey which has given evidence that it is willing to reform; it is willing to put aside the military in its predominant political role of the past, it is willing to take steps in the direction of full democratization, respect for human rights, et cetera.
Now, of course, it is eventually for Turkey itself to decide, or its government to decide to fulfill all these prerequisites, which are put by Europe itself. But as a basic choice, I would very strongly argue in favor of the support of this choice they have made.
RAY SUAREZ: Prime Minister Karamanlis, it was a pleasure to have you with us.
COSTAS KARAMANLIS: Thank you very much, Mr. Suarez.