Prominent issues in Greek foreign policy include a dispute over the name of The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (F.Y.R.O.M.), the enduring Cyprus problem, Greek-Turkish differences over the Aegean, and Greek-American relations.
The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (F.Y.R.O.M.)
Greek refusal to recognize F.Y.R.O.M. under the name "Republic of Macedonia" has been an important issue in Greek politics since 1992. Greece was adamantly opposed to the use of the name "Macedonia" by the government in Skopje, claiming that the name is intrinsically Greek and should not be used by a foreign country.
Furthermore, Greece believes that an independent "Republic of Macedonia" bordering the Greek region of Macedonia would fuel irredentist tensions in F.Y.R.O.M. The dispute led to a Greek trade embargo against F.Y.R.O.M. in February 1994. Mediation efforts by the UN, U.S., and EU brokered an interim solution to some of these differences in September 1995, leading to the lifting of the Greek embargo. Since the signing of these interim accords, the two governments have concluded agreements designed to facilitate the movement of people and goods across their common border and improve bilateral relations. Talks on remaining issues are still being held under UN auspices in New York.
Greece restored diplomatic relations with Albania in 1971, but the Greek Government did not formally lift the state of war, declared during World War II, until 1987. After the fall of the Albanian communist regime in 1991, relations between Athens and Tirana became increasingly strained because of widespread allegations of mistreatment by Albanian authorities of the Greek ethnic minority in southern Albania. A wave of Albanian illegal economic migrants to Greece exacerbated tensions. The crisis in Greek-Albanian relations reached its peak in the summer of 1994, when an Albanian court sentenced five members (a sixth member was added later) of the ethnic Greek organization "Omonia" to prison terms on charges of undermining the Albanian state. Greece responded by freezing all EU aid to Albania and deporting tens of thousands of illegal Albanians. In December 1994, however, Greece began to permit limited EU aid to Albania, while Albania released two of the Omonia defendants and reduced the sentences of the remaining four.
Today, relations between the two countries are good, and, at the Albanian Government's request, about 250 Greek military personnel are stationed in Albania to assist with training and restructuring the Albanian armed forces.
Greece and Turkey enjoyed good relations in the 1930s, but relations began to deteriorate in the mid-1950s, sparked by the Cyprus independence struggle and Turkish violence directed against the Greek minority in Istanbul. The July 1974 coup against Cyprus President Makarios -- inspired by the Greek military junta in Athens -- and the subsequent Turkish military intervention in Cyprus helped bring about the fall of the Greek military dictatorship. It also led to the de facto division of Cyprus. Since then, Greece has strongly supported Greek-Cypriot efforts, calling for the removal of Turkish troops and the restoration of a unified state. The Republic of Cyprus has received strong support from Greece in international forums. Greece has a military contingent on Cyprus, and Greek officers fill some key positions in the Greek Cypriot National Guard, as permitted by the constitution of Cyprus.
Other issues dividing Greece and Turkey involve the delimitation of the continental shelf in the Aegean Sea, territorial waters and airspace, and the condition of the Greek minority in Turkey and the Muslim minority in Greece. Greek and Turkish officials held meetings in the 1970s to discuss differences on Aegean questions, but Greece discontinued these discussions in the fall of 1981. In 1983, Greece and Turkey held talks on trade and tourism, but these were suspended by Greece when Turkey recognized the Turkish-Cypriot declaration of an independent state in northern Cyprus in November 1983.
After a dangerous dispute in the Aegean in March 1987 concerning oil drilling rights, the Prime Ministers of Greece and Turkey exchanged messages exploring the possibility of resolving the dispute over the continental shelf. Greece wanted the dispute to be decided by the International Court of Justice. Turkey preferred bilateral political discussions. In early 1988, the Turkish and Greek Prime Ministers met at Davos, Switzerland, and later in Brussels. They agreed on various measures to reduce bilateral tensions and to encourage cooperation. New tensions over the Aegean surfaced in November 1994, precipitated by Greece's ratification of the Law of the Sea Treaty and its ensuing statement that it reserved the right to declare a 12-mile territorial sea boundary around its Aegean islands as permitted by the treaty. Turkey stated that it would consider any such action a cause for war. New technical-level bilateral discussions began in 1994 but quickly fizzled.
In January 1996, Greece and Turkey came close to an armed confrontation over the question of which country had sovereignty over an islet in the Aegean. In July 1997, on the sidelines of the NATO summit in Madrid, Greek and Turkish leaders reached agreement on six principles to govern their bilateral relations. Within a few months, however, the two countries were again at odds over Aegean airspace and sovereignty issues. Tensions remain high. However, the two countries are discussing, under the auspices of the NATO Secretary General, various confidence-building measures to reduce the risk of military accidents or conflict in the Aegean.
The Middle East
Greece has a special interest in the Middle East because of its geographic position and its economic and historic ties to the area. Greece cooperated with allied forces during the 1990-91 Persian Gulf war. Since 1994, Greece has signed defense cooperation agreements with Israel and Egypt. In recent years, Greek leaders have made numerous trips to the region in order to strengthen bilateral ties and encourage the Middle East Peace Process. In July and December 1997, Greece hosted meetings of Israeli and Palestinian politicians to contribute to the peace process. Greece hosted another such meeting in July 1998.
The U.S. and Greece have long-standing historical, political, and cultural ties based on a common heritage, shared democratic values, and participation as Allies during World War II, the Korean conflict, and the Cold War. The U.S. is the largest foreign investor in Greece; U.S. foreign investment in Greece was about $1.5 billion in 1994.
About 1.1 million Americans are of Greek origin. The large, well-organized Greek-American community in the U.S. cultivates close political and cultural ties with Greece. Greece has the seventh-largest population of U.S. Social Security beneficiaries in the world.
During the Greek civil war of 1946-49, the U.S. proclaimed the Truman Doctrine, promising assistance to governments resisting communist subjugation, and began a period of substantial financial and military aid. The U.S. has provided Greece with more than $11.1 billion in economic and security assistance since 1946. Economic programs were phased out by 1962, but military assistance has continued. In fiscal year 1995, Greece was the fourth-largest recipient of U.S. security assistance, receiving loans totaling $255.15 million in foreign military financing.
In 1953, the first defense cooperation agreement between Greece and the United States was signed, providing for the establishment and operation of American military installations on Greek territory. The current mutual defense cooperation agreement (MDCA) provides for continued U.S. military assistance to Greece and the operation by the U.S. of a major military facility at Souda Bay, Crete.
Disputes - international: complex maritime, air, and territorial disputes with Turkey in Aegean Sea; Cyprus question with Turkey; dispute with The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia over its name
Illicit drugs: a gateway to Europe for traffickers smuggling cannabis and heroin from the Middle East and Southwest Asia to the West and precursor chemicals to the East; some South American cocaine transits or is consumed in Greece