A Key European Voice Hails New U.S. Attitude Under Obama

Greek foreign minister Dora Bakoyannis likes what she sees so far from the Obama administration.


As the foreign minister of Greece, Dora Bakoyannis grew familiar with the Bush administration and its foreign policy. Now she is developing a new relationship with the Obama administration. So far, she likes what she sees, sensing a good start by the new U.S. foreign policy team. Bakoyannis was previously the mayor of Athens—the first woman to hold that position in the history of modern Greece. And this year, she will be a key player on security issues involving the United States as she takes on the role of chairperson-in-office for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. She recently sat down with U.S. News to discuss topics including the OSCE's role in such hot-button issues as Georgia and Kosovo. Excerpts:

Could you discuss the impact of the recession in Europe?

There is in the whole of the European Union a sense of insecurity that is growing. People are facing, for the first time, a global crisis that goes beyond anything they have known and lived through, at least post-Second World War. Now the challenge for all of us is very close cooperation. We need it inside of Europe. We need it with the United States, but we need it also on a global level. This is not a crisis that Greece alone or Germany alone or the United States alone can face. Greece, for example, is a medium-size European country, but we had a stable bank system. So our banks, allow me to say, are more conservative. They did not face the problems of toxic products. And we are the only ones who still, even after this crisis, have positive growth. We will have to build on that.

One agency that rates levels of political risk recently moved Greece into a higher-risk category in light of the recession. Is there a danger of instability?

Greece is a very mature European democracy, which means there is no question about its stability.

How are things changing between the West and Russia?

There is a new momentum there. President Dmitry Medvedev showed that he is ready to engage with the United States. The first messages from Washington were positively welcomed in Europe and in Russia. We should not lose this momentum, engaging Russia more.

Greece opposed Kosovo's independence last year. What is the situation now?

It's happened, but not a lot has changed. The crucial thing for Kosovo now is to stabilize the institutions and to stabilize the economy. For the moment, it is in very, very bad shape. The Balkans are a very difficult region.

How should the West deal with Georgia?

2008 has shown there are no frozen conflicts. We are wiser now. We know they can become hot very quickly, and one of them is Georgia. First is to make sure the OSCE presence in Georgia is kept. We have to keep legitimate talks going, try to focus on solving problems on the ground.

How is the Obama administration doing early on?

This is a very rare moment. The Obama campaign and the messages from the new administration have been very positively received in Europe. The European Union wants to cooperate. We want to have an equal partnership, but also a complementary one, with the United States.

How do you assess Obama's moves on fighting terrorism?

It was the correct decision—and we asked for it for years—to close Guantánamo. We will not win the fight against terrorism just by force and by military measures. We need to fight terrorism ideologically, politically, with symbolism. I am afraid that this was lost in the last years. It became a fight of the Americans against the Talibans or against the Iraqis, but the fight against terrorism is much more than that. It is a fight against the terrorist logic.