Milosevic Snubs Greeks; Accuses Athens of Promoting US Interests

By Louis Economopoulos | July 7, 2008 | 8:08 PM EDT

Athens, Greece ( - Greek Foreign Minister George Papandreou visited Belgrade Thursday but received the cold shoulder treatment from Federal Republic of Yugoslavia President Slobodan Milosevic, who has lately accused Athens of promoting American interests in the region.

The Belgrade authorities delayed granting landing permission for Papandreou's aircraft. Several days earlier, Greek Prime Minister Costas Simitis' aircraft was prevented from flying over Yugoslavia on his way to New York.

The snub was thought to be a reaction to a recent speech by Simitis who denounced Yugoslavia as a regional troublemaker and constant source of tension, but Greek government spokesman Telemachos Hitiris declined to comment on the Papandreou episode.

Adding to Greece's discomfort, the US State Department expressed its displeasure with Papandreou's meeting with the Serbian leader, who is wanted for alleged war crimes.

The State Department said Thursday it supported a visit having the aim of consulting with Yugoslavia's democratic opposition before the elections, but that "any meeting between a European figure of Mr. Papandreou's stature and persons indicted for war crimes is unfortunate."

The foreign minister, born and educated in the United States, responded that Greece did not need anyone's authorization before it undertook initiatives and exercised its foreign policy.

"We had briefed the United States and the European Union over our intention to visit Belgrade," Papandreou said in a statement. "We did not request authorization, as this would be inconceivable.

"We believe that our contacts with the Yugoslav leadership were especially useful and that our positions were understood. We had the opportunity to get through our message for free and democratic elections and to express our support to the Serbian people," he added.

Combined presidential, parliamentary and municipal elections in Yugoslavia are scheduled for September 24. Washington is hoping Milosevic will be defeated at the polls.

Papandreou also said taking Milosevic to the International Court of Justice to face charges of crimes against humanity would be totally unproductive.

Papandreou is the only top envoy from a NATO country to visit Yugoslavia since Alliance air strikes drove Yugoslav forces from the province of Kosovo last year.

An announcement from the Yugoslav president's office after the Papandreou-Milosevic meeting said political pressure exerted against Yugoslavia would not "shake the people of Yugoslavia in their defense of the country's vital interests."

It said Milosevic maintained that his people resisted heroically in the face of last year's NATO bombing attacks and that he was especially comforted and encouraged by the solidarity shown by the Greek nation.

The two men also discussed the forthcoming elections, according to the statement. Papandreou told Milosevic fair and democratic holding of elections would lead to an "opening" for Yugoslavia as far as the European Union was concerned, regardless of the election results.

Milosevic told Papandreou he would guarantee democratic elections and would respect the results, the statement said.

While in Belgrade, Papandreou also met with his Yugoslav counterpart, Zivadin Jovanovic, who turned down Athens' request to accept the presence of independent observers for the elections.

Jovanovic made it clear in statements to the press that no foreign intervention would be accepted during the elections, which he described as "an internal matter" of Yugoslavia.

"The elections are being held to express the will of the people of Yugoslavia, not to satisfy the international community," Jovanovic said.

He also stood by earlier statements that Greece's policy on Yugoslavia was "dictated by the United States."

In reference to Kosovo, the Yugoslav foreign minister asked that Serb police and troops be allowed to return to the province to combat what he called a "tide of terrorism" against the Serb minority living there. He said the UN peacekeeping force and temporary authority had proved "ineffective."

Jovanovic also asked that the EU lift economic sanctions against his country and respect international borders.

Meanwhile, Papandreou lodged a strong complaint with Jovanovic after police arrested three members of the Yugoslav student organization Otpor (Resistance) outside the Greek ambassador's home in Belgrade Thursday night.

At the time of the arrests, the Greek ambassador was giving a reception attended by Papandreou, Jovanovic and representatives of Serbia's political groups.

The members of the Otpor, currently regarded as the most dynamic part of the Serbian opposition, had been invited to the reception by the Greek ambassador and intended to hold talks with Papandreou on the occasion.