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Europe ignored Athens' diplomatic initiative for peace in the Middle East

17 October 2015 / 14:10:33  GRReporter
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Athens' initiative to convene an international conference on the coexistence of religions and cultures in the Middle East (18-20 October), has a dual purpose, as the organisers explain. Firstly, the conference is designed to show that Greece can play a mediating role in the events by taking advantage of its good relations with all players in the region. Secondly, it wants to contribute to the gradual achievement of stability, which in turn might prevent the mass influx of refugees from countries such as Iraq and Syria.

The conference will be launched by President Prokopis Pavlopoulos, and the official dinner on Monday will be attended by Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras. Parliament Speaker Nikos Voutsis will attend the lunch on the same day.

The idea for such a meeting was put forward by Nikos Kodzias for the first time in February in Riga, at a meeting of EU foreign ministers. Although EU foreign policy commissioner Federica Mogherini initially showed great interest, then it is somehow fizzled out and the EU failed to stand firmly behind the Greek initiative.

The presidents of the European Commission and the European Parliament, Jean-Claude Juncker and Martin Schulz, will not come, although they were invited. Instead they sent apology letters citing their great workloads. Similar letters were received from commissioners Dimitris Avramopoulos (responsible for immigration) and Christos Stylianidis (humanitarian aid).

In parallel, France used its position as a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council and put the matter before the council a few months ago, in March. In early September, an international conference on ethnic and religious violence, organised by France and Jordan, was held in Paris. This conference had a predominantly political nature and focused on the fight against the Islamic State. The objectives of France, which has a central role in the coalition against the Islamic State, are different to those of Greece.

Athens wants to emphasize religious tolerance and multiculturalism, so as to create channels of understanding and cooperation; it is also seeking to explore the role played by religious leaders in conflict prevention. Apart from the final declaration of the conference, Greece aims to create an observatory for monitoring persecuted religious groups.

The political leadership of the ministry of foreign affairs seeks to establish bilateral contacts with the religious leaders who will come to Athens, especially with the Orthodox patriarchs, who are natural allies of the Greek foreign policy.

The presence of religious leaders will be quite impressive. The important work, which led to this, was carried out by the deputy foreign minister, Yiannis Amanatidis, as well as by a foreign office working group led by ambassador Panos Amiridis.

The presence of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew is undoubtedly a factor of key importance. Among others who will come, are Alexandria's patriarch Theodoros, Jerusalem's Patriarch Theophilos, Antioch Patriarch Ioannis, Egypt's Grand Mufti Shawki Ibrahim Abdel-Karim Allam, Rabbi David Rosen from Israel, the Archbishop of Athens Yeronimos, the archbishop of North America Demetrios, Albania's Archbishop Anastasios, and Cyprus' Archbishop Chrysostomos. The presence of Metropolitan Hilarion, representing the Russian Patriarch Cyril, is another important factor.

As far as government officials are concerned, the Greek side was expecting the earlier arrival of the US deputy minister of foreign affairs Victoria Nuland, but this will probably fail to materialise. She is anyway coming to Athens on 20 October to prepare the visit of US Foreign Secretary John Kerry. Other important attendees are Staffan de Mistura, Special Envoy of the UN Secretary General on Syria, foreign ministers Ioannis Kasoulides (Cyprus), Sameh Shukri (Egypt), Ibrahim al-Jaafari (Iraq), etc. A deputy minister of foreign affairs might also come from Iran.

However, the slight by EU foreign ministers is an undeniable fact. And this should be a matter of deeper concern for the Greek side...

Tags: international conference Athens Middle East peace cooperation religious representatives political representatives
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