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16 June, 1998
US ambassador in Athens Nicholas Burns said he considered Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash, personally, and Turkey responsible for the impasse in the Cyprus peace talks, adding that the US would not recognize Mr. Denktash as a head of state.
He also said the four islands in the Aegean recently disputed by Turkey were clearly Greek, and praised Greece's foreign policy in the Balkans, particularly on the Kosovo issue.
In an interview with the Athens daily "Exousia" published yesterday, Mr. Burns expressed great respect for Greek Prime Minister Costas Simitis and his government, said he had a close cooperation with Foreign Minister Theodoros Pangalos, and reiterated t he US position that the European Union should keep its door open to Turkey. Mr. Burns, a former US State Department spokesman who took up his Athens post six months ago, said the US and Greece were making progress in the building of "a good and successful relationship of confidence" at political, economic and military level, noting recent visits here by the US Secretaries of Commerce and Defense, an expected visit by Secretary of State Madeleine Albright later this summer, and Greek defense minister Akis Tsohatzopoulos's scheduled US visit on July 3-10, during which he would be received in Washington "with the highest honors".
Mr. Burns said the US was closely collaborating with Greece on all problems in the eastern Mediterranean.
Regarding the Cyprus issue, "we (the US) believe that Cyprus must remain a united island. We believe in a unified Cyprus on a bizonal, bicommunal basis and we have not altered our views," Mr. Burns said. He said the US was "very disappointed with Mr. Denktash's reaction, and also that of the Turkish side, to the proposals tabled by Richard Holbrooke", the US Presidential emissary for Cyprus.
"There is no doubt that the Turkish side was responsible for the collapse of the talks," Mr. Burns said, adding that the US was disappointed over the Turkish side's views that Cyprus' EU candidacy should be postponed or annulled and that the US side should recognize Mr. Denktash as a head of state.
"We shall not recognize Mr. Denktash as a head of state. We hope very much that the Turkish side will be more open to a constructive discussion with the Cyprus government on this problem," Mr. Burns said.
With regard to Greek-Turkish relations, he said the US was an ally of both Greece and Turkey in NATO, and "we have a very deep friendship with both countries and wish to help those two countries if they can resolve some of the problems between them".
In that spirit, he added, "we are particularly pleased that NATO secretary general Javier Solana succeeded in an agreement on promoting confidence-building measures in the Aegean. This is very important".
"The US is also pleased that, as a part of that agreement, there will be a moratorium on military exercises in the Aegean this summer," Mr. Burns said, adding that this was a positive development which the US hoped would greatly help the situation and promote a "strong and productive tourism season for Greece in the Aegean".
Questioned on Turkey's recent dispute of Greek sovereignty on four inhabited islands in the Aegean (Fournoi, Agathonisi, Farmakonissi and Pserimos), Mr. Burns said the issue was brought to US attention by the Greek authorities, with which it had several discussions, and "there is no doubt that the US believes that those islands are inhabited by Greeks and are widely considered Greek. And we hope very much that this is comprehended by everyone in the region".
Mr. Burns added that several months before that, Greek sovereignty of the Kalogiri islands had also been disputed. "The US definitely believes that they are Greek islands," he stressed, adding that the same also held true for the island of Gavdos.
Questioned on high-level US pressure on the European Union to improve its policy towards Turkey, Mr. Burns said that the US, "although not a member of the EU, believes that it is very important for all of us to work to create a situation in the next century in this region that will be peaceful and stable. Thus, we believe that Turkey has a European orientation".
"We hope that the EU will keep its door open to Turkey for candidacy, although Turkey will have to fulfill the conditions for membership. We believe it is in the interests of all the EU countries to have Turkey cooperating with Europe in the next century rather than shut out. Turkey is an important country for geopolitical reasons," Mr. Burns said.
He added that Turkey's future and stability were "important for all of us in the West, and we believe that we should do everything possible in order to be open to closer cooperation with Turkey in the future, and this, naturally, includes the EU," he said.
Asked to comment on reports citing Turkish officials as saying that after the EU's decision not to include Turkey among candidates for membership it was impossible for Ankara to take positive steps on the Cyprus issue, and on how this would affect the Holbrooke initiative, Mr. Burns replied:
"I can assure you that ambassadors Holbrooke and (State Department special coordinator for Cyprus, Thomas) Miller will continue to work with the Cyprus government and the Turkish Cypriot community in the direction of negotiations to resolve the problems between them. We will not abandon the effort. We shall continue to work towards the end. But we will not change our policy, we continue to believe in a federal bizonal, bicommunal approach to the Cyprus problem. We do not wish to see Cyprus partitioned. We want to see Cyprus united and peaceful."
Turning to Greek-US bilateral relations, Mr. Burns said that the US had been a good friend of Greece in many instances in the past, citing the Marshall Plan as a good example.
"I also believe that the US should have been a better friend of Greek democracy during the junta. I believe that we should not have supported the dictators," he said.
"We must respect history and read it. We should understand the meaning of the history of the last 50 years, but we should not be hostages of that history. We must move forward and aspire to a better Greek-American relationship, a relationship that should be based on our alliance in NATO, on the very close friendship between our peoples," Mr. Burns said.
Turning to Greece's role in the Balkans and the Kosovo crisis, Mr. Burns noted that the US was closely collaborating with the Greek government on the Kosovo problem. "We've had intensive exchanges of views. Secretary of State Albright and Foreign Minister Pangalos personally discussed this issue on two occasions in recent months, and I am in close contact with Mr. Pangalos and his staff on this matter," Mr. Burns said.
"I believe that we are working very well with the Greek government and with the other allied governments in the effort to have a common position. And that position, naturally, is to try to do all that we can to avert the outbreak of a terrible crisis in Kosovo. To send a message that there should be a peaceful, and not a violent, solution to the Kosovo problems," he said.
Mr. Burns added that the US was "very pleased with how the Greek government is working on this".
"I see very few differences between us on this issue. We are very impressed by the fact that Greece has, in general, a very constructive policy on its northern neighbours. Greece has very good relations with FYROM and Albania. It is a country with influence in Serbia. Consequently, the Greek views on the issue are very important to us. Generally, I believe that Greece has the opportunity in the future to exercise great influence in the Balkans," he added.
Questioned on his own relations with the Greek government and officials, Mr. Burns said that "we have developed very good cooperation relations with the Greek government".
"I have great respect for the Prime minister had his staff and work closely with them. I also work closely with Foreign Minister Pangalos, whom I consider a very smart and serious person, with whom we do very good work together," he added.
Mr. Burns further praised the new Greek ambassador in Washington, Alexandros Philon, as an "excellent diplomat", and said he also worked closely with several other ministers, including the finance minister "and have great respect for the quality of the leaders in Greece".
"They all wish to build a stronger relationship between the US and Greece than we had in the past. I think we all agree that that relationship needs strengthening, and we are committed to that. We are starting to take steps to make this a reality," Mr. Burns concluded.
Source: Athens News Agency