16 December, 2003
LONDON 16/12/2003 (ANA - L. Tsirigotakis)
International and European affairs but also the return of the Parthenon Marbles were among the topics discussed by British Prime Minister Tony Blair and visiting Greek premier Costas Simitis, during their meeting here on Monday.
The two men particularly focused on developments in the Middle East following the arrest of Saddam Hussein.
As he emerged from the British premier's residence at 10 Downing Street, Simitis stressed that Saddam's arrest was a positive event that created the right conditions for the democratization of Iraq and to deal with tensions there that also spilled over into other parts of the world.
Simitis underlined the need for decisive intervention in issues concerning Israel and the Palestinian territories, noting that this area was one of the key sources of current conflict in the world that bred terrorism.
Simitis said his talks with Blair had also covered the failure of efforts to agree on a new European constitution at the European Council in Brussels over the weekend.
''This failure was no ordinary failure, it was not a failure caused by disagreement over certain figures or specific funding. It showed that the member-states have different views on Europe,'' Simitis said.
''Both Mr. Blair and I agree that this is precisely the issue we have to deal with. It's not how we want set up the institutions, it's about what we want Europe to do, on what problems it must make progress. If these issues are cleared up, then it will be much easier to clear up what form Europe will take,'' he said.
Simitis added that Greece wanted a ''strong Europe'', which would be able to make specific decisions about its economy, defense, and foreign policy and for reducing inequalities.
Though Britain did not share Greece's desire for a 'federal' Europe, Blair recognized that the current situation was not at all positive and that the problem will have to be dealt with in the months to come, the Greek premier added.
Another topic discussed during the meeting was developments on Cyprus and the results of ''elections'' in the occupied territories.
Noting that the Turkish-Cypriot opposition bloc had gained a larger number of votes, Simitis said this showed that a majority of Turkish-Cypriots desired a solution to the Cyprus problem, wanted the implementation of the Annan peace plan for Cyprus and did not agree with the policies of Rauf Denktash that moved counter to this direction.
He also pointed to Saturday's agreement by EU leaders that a solution to the Cyprus problem would play a major part in Turkey's European prospects.
''It is therefore time for Turkey to do something, before May 1, to overcome this problem that has tortured the divided island for over 30 years,'' Simitis said.
In his talks with Blair, the Greek premier once again raised the issue of returning the Parthenon Marbles, which are currently on display at the British Museum in London.
He said Blair acknowledged that the Greek government's proposal to the British Museum made it clear that it did not wish to become involved in the issue of the Marbles' ownership.
He announced that Greek Culture Minister Evangelos Venizelos will be visiting London to discuss the issue with his counterpart in the British government.
''We believe that this issue is not one of technicalities and ownership but a political issue and for this reason we want to deal with it politically,'' Simitis stressed.
Asked about Blair's reaction, the Greek premier noted only that the British premier was ''aware of the issue'' and stressed that Greece had to keep raising the issue and pressing the British side over the matter of the Marbles.
Venizelos comments on issue of return of Parthenon Marbles: Culture Minister Evangelos Venizelos on Monday stated that ''it is a particularly important fact that'' Prime Minister Costas Simitis and his British counterpart Tony Blair ''jointly set the basis of a policy to deal with the matter of the Parthenon Marbles, with the starting point being the known Greek proposal for a unified joint exhibition for the Parthenon Friezes.''
''I have on other occasions discussed the matter with my British counterpart, now however we will discuss it again at the order of our prime ministers and this provides particular political weight for this procedure,'' the culture minister concluded.
Source: Athens News Agency