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10 Questions For Kostas Karamanlis

4 minute read

Greece’s center-right new democracy party, led by Kostas Karamanlis, 47, surged to victory in last week’s parliamentary polls, ending the long reign of the Socialists, who had held power for 20 of the last 23 years. Now Karamanlis must get Athens’ Olympic preparations up to speed and manage negotiations with Turkey over the fate of Cyprus. TIME’s Anthee Carassava landed the first interview with Greece’s new Prime Minister.

THE MADRID BOMBINGS KILLED AT LEAST 200 PEOPLE. DO YOU WORRY ABOUT AN ATTACK AT THE GAMES? One can think of endless scenarios and hypotheses. Our duty is to do everything humanly possible to guarantee the security of the Games. We [have] asked for nato’s help in guaranteeing the security of the Games. This is something discussed and prepared by the previous government, but due to the events in Spain, we felt it was a step most sensible to pursue.

YOU PUT YOURSELF AT THE HELM OF OLYMPIC PREPARATIONS. WHY? I didn’t put myself only at the top of Olympic preparations, but at the Culture Ministry. I wanted to send a message within the country and abroad that we take this [Olympic] task very seriously, and we will make sure that everything will be prepared on time and in detail. Secondly, I strongly believe that culture and education are the highest investment the Greek people can make.

WHEN YOU HELD YOUR FIRST MEETINGS ON THE OLYMPICS, WERE THINGS BETTER OR WORSE THAN EXPECTED? We’ve been following the course of Olympic preparations very closely from the start, so I didn’t confront any surprises. There have been delays. However, at this point there is no time for additional criticism. We are almost five months from the Games, and we have only one goal and responsibility: to make sure that all of us, not just the government, but all Greeks, contribute in order to make good Games and secure Games.

WON’T THIS CHANGE OF GOVERNMENT SLOW THE PREPARATION PROCESS? The change of government may in fact speed up the process, simply because of the new impetus and the new momentum.

DO YOU PLAN TO ALTER THE GOVERNMENT’S ROLE IN THE PREPARATIONS? There is no time to even think about that. I have asked all the key people, even politically appointed ones, to remain. I’m not happy that some of them have resigned. But that’s their choice.

ON CYPRUS, WHAT ARE THE ODDS OF A SETTLEMENT BY MAY 1? It’s tight, very tight. There has been an agreement on the process, which cannot be changed. So we will stick to the commitments the country has made, and we will do our best to reach a viable and workable solution of the problem so long as it is compatible with E.U. standards. Cyprus will be a full member of the E.U., and any solution has to be in accordance with those standards.

WHAT CAN GREECE DO TO CONVINCE GREEK CYPRIOTS TO BACK KOFI ANNAN’S PLAN? Each side has the responsibility to do his part … [but ] the burden falls more on the Turkish Cypriot side. The Greek Cypriot government has made it clear that it has accepted the Annan plan as a basis of negotiations.

GREECE AND TURKEY HAVE TO JOIN THE TALKS ON MARCH 22. DO YOU THINK ADDITIONAL TIME MAY BE NEEDED? We’ll see. Everything that has to do with these negotiations has to be seen on a day-to-day, step-by-step basis. If there is breakthrough, for example, then the participation of Greece and Turkey may be redundant.

DO YOU BELIEVE TURKEY WANTS A DEAL? There is a window of opportunity, but … the Turkish Cypriot side and Turkey have been the intransigent side on Cyprus for many years. So that’s why I’m saying this has to be proven. I have a lot of goodwill. I’m offering this particular Turkish Prime Minister [Recep Tayyip Erdogan] the benefit of the doubt. It’s the first time we have the opportunity to find a good partner on the other side.

HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH ERDOGAN? [It’s] a personal relationship based on mutual trust — this is strong ground to build upon. But on delicate matters of major issues, steps have to be taken carefully so that trust is reinforced, not endangered.

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