Sunday, December 23, 2007

Greece, Bulgaria, Romania agree to step-up cooperation for Balkan stability, growth

Athens News Agency

"Greece, Bulgaria and Romania have increased resonsibilities for stability and growth on the Balkan region, and we intend to shoulder these responsibilities," Greek foreign minister Dora Bakoyannis said on Saturday, following a tripartite meeting in Athens, at Greece's initiative, with her Bulgarian and Romanian counterparts Ivaylo Kalfin and Adrian Cioroianu, respectively.

The three foreign ministers, who represent the NATO and EU member countries in SE Europe, agreed to boost their cooperation in view of the critical developments in Kosovo and the difficult situation in Serbia, and also reaffirmed their dedication to the European perspective of the western Balkans, which was rejuvenated by the recent Greek initiative '5 proposals with a timetable' while, on a regional level, they stressed the importance of cooperation in the framework of the Black Sea Cooperation Economic Cooperation (BSEC) and and the new EU neighbourhood in the Black Sea.

Stressing the need for "the region's issues to be confronted by the region itself", the three ministers decided to hold a follow-up meeting of the Greece, Bulgaria, Romania Tripartite Cooperation in the first half of 2008 in Bucharest, which will prepare for a summit meeting among the priime ministers of the three countries later in 2008, in Sofia.

Saturday's meeting focused mainly on Kosovo.

Bakoyannis told a joint press conference after the meeting, speaking on behalf of the Tripartite, that "the channels of communication between Belgrade and Pristina must remain open, regardless of what the 'following day' is", stressing "how important this is for us who are countries of the region".

"We share the same concerns, the same worries, but also the same vision for stability, peace and prosperity to the benefit of all the peoples," Bakoyannis added.

On the European perspective of the Western Balkans, which "serves as a powerful catalyst in the achievement of the above goals", Bakoyanni said that no state can be excluded from the process, including Serbia. "This rapprochement must not be linked to issues other than the European prerequisites. Any attempt at linking Serbia's European perspective with the developments in Kosovo would be erroneous and counter-productive," the Greek foreign minister said categorically. This position was endorsed by her Bulgarian and Romanian counterparts, and was recorded in a joint communique issued after the Tripartite meeting.

To a question on whether this would eliminate an incentive to Serbia for finding a solution to the Kosovo issue, Bakoyannis replied: "We don't want to place Serbia before a dilemma. No one wishes to put forward the dilemma of the European perspective with Kosovo as the counterbalance."

"I make this clear," Bakoyannis said, while Cioroianu added that "that would be unfair".

She stressed, however, that the European perspective of the Balkan neighbours must be founded on firm foundations such as respect of International Law, the International Treaties, good neighbour relations, peaceful resolution of differences, and seeking mutually acceptable solutions to outstanding issues.

Regarding the future status of Kosovo, Bakoyannis said that "we must act with lucidity, without haste, because it is a complex and complicated problem, and we must give diplomacy the opportunity to achieve a viable solution that will contribute to regional stability".

"We also believe that an international and a European presence are necessary, in accordance with the recent decisions of the European Union and NATO," Bakoyannis said, stressing the need that the international presence should be founded on the broadest and strongest possible basis of legitimisation.

In their joint communique, the three foreign ministers stress the need for the signing of an Association and Stability Pact with Serbia as soon as possible, and for the encouragement of the other countries of the region to also submit accession requests to the EU, while they also express the hope that the European Council (summit) of December 2008 will grant candidate status to every applicant.

The ministers further endorse the Greek initiative that rekindled the European perspective of the Western Balkans, which is expected to be a subject of deliberations in the EU in the first half of 2008.

Finally, the three ministers reaffirm that the BSEC comprises the main forum for regional cooperation in the region and for the rapprochement of the countries of the region with the EU.

Saturday's discussions also focused on strengthening cooperation on and confrontation of natural disasters, which plagued the countries of SE Europe this past summer, a subject that has already been put forward in the EU as well by the Greek government.

Before the Tripartite meeting, Bakoyannis had separate meetings with her Bulgarian and Romanian counterparts, respectively.

After the Tripartite, the three ministers strolled through the festively-decorated centre of Athens, followed by lunch at a downtown restaurant.

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