Greece Pushes for Lifting of Yugoslavia Oil Embargo

By Louis Economopoulos | July 7, 2008 | 8:07 PM EDT

ByAthens, Greece ( - With scheduled visits to Bucharest and Brussels in the next few days, Greek Prime Minister Costas Simitis is expected to push for lifting the oil embargo against neighboring Yugoslavia.

Simitis left Friday for the Romanian capital, where he will attend a weekend inter-Balkan conference. Monday he will be in Brussels for the European Union general affairs council meeting.

At both meetings the socialist leader intends to reiterate his arguments for the lifting both the existing oil embargo and the flight ban against Yugoslavia.

A senior source in the Greek Foreign Ministry told that the embargo proved counter-productive and bolstered the regime of Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic. He said the ban had fuelled illegal trade, criminal activity and the black market in the broader Balkan region.

The EU is poised to suspend the flight ban while imposing tougher economic sanctions and expanding the list of Serb officials whose EU entry has been prohibited. U.S. Undersecretary of State Thomas Pickering supported the idea during his visit to Athens last week.

Britain and the Netherlands strongly oppose lifting the oil embargo without strict guarantees that democratic opposition forces can agree on a common political platform and front.

The Greek government has proposed adding to the number of cities that enjoy democratic administration so that they can receive fuel, especially for hospitals and schools.

Simitis will be meeting in Bucharest with state leaders from Albania, Bulgaria, the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia, Romania and Turkey.

The six leaders are expected to sign the Charter of Friendship, Stability, Security and Cooperation in Southeast Europe. It was initialled two months ago by the participating countries' foreign ministers.

Yugoslavia will not attend since, according to the foreign ministry of host country Romania, its participation is not feasible until its domestic situation has been resolved.

Bosnia and Croatia will attend as observers.

The inter-Balkan conference was founded in 1997 by Greece, which hosted the first gathering on the island of Crete.

"Greece will make specific proposals and initiatives at the inter-Balkan conference for the immediate promotion of issues which deal with the stability and development of the Balkans," Greek Foreign Minister George Papandreou said before departing for Bucharest.

During the summit, ways of enforcing regional economic cooperation were also expected to be discussed.

The Balkan prime ministers will also discuss regional efforts to combat crime.

In Brussels next week, Simitis will discuss with his EU counterparts proposals of joint foreign and defense policies.

Meanwhile, Greek government spokesman Dimitris Reppas announced that NATO Secretary-General George Robertson would visit Greece on February 23.

He will discuss NATO initiatives to establish confidence building measures between Greece and Turkey, as well as talks on the latest developments in the Balkans.

The neighbors' foreign ministers are spearheading diplomatic moves to end years of hostility over Cyprus and territorial disputes in the Aegean Sea.