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03 November, 2000
The prospects of Greek-Turkish cooperation were at the focus of Greek Foreign Minister George Papandreou's address on Thursday during a dinner in honor of Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Mesut Yilmaz, who arrived in Athens for a series of top-level meetings with Greece's leadership and to attend a Greek-Turkish business forum.
Papandreou defended the Greek policy exercised toward Turkey over the past two years, stressing that this has been a historic opportunity, which the peoples of the two countries demand of their governments to take advantage of.
He said, however, that the most basic precondition for the full rapprochement between Greece and Turkey is the solution of the Cyprus problem, a solution based on the United Nations Security Council resolutions on the issue.
"Cyprus will either divide us or unite us," Papandreou said, adding that the accession of the island republic to the European Union is a precondition for the security of both the Greek and the Turkish communities.
The Greek foreign minister also said that the dialogue that began on the Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) aims at creating a strong basis, on which to examine the problems between the two countries under a more constructive light.
"We follow your model," he said speaking to businessmen, "we are looking for the common interest".
He added that the interests of Greece and Turkey are complementary, and called the Greek government's policy an investment on the security of the region.
Comparing the recent Middle Eastern crisis between Israelis and Palestinians, to the Greek-Turkish relations he said that there is no hostility and hatred between the peoples of Greece and Turkey, rather there is a wish for friendship and cooperation.
"This our people proved last year during the catastrophic earthquakes and the wave of solidarity that was created," Papandreou said.
He also referred to Turkey's European course, calling it especially difficult, but one that can yield many benefits, adding that Turkey can in this way gain in stability, peace, economic development and the better protection of the rights of its population.
He said, however, that in order to achieve all that and to continue without obstacles the course toward Europe, the conditions agreed in Helsinki would have to be included in the text describing the Turkish-EU relation, now discussed by the 15 European Union member-states.
Yilmaz is scheduled to meet on Friday with President Kostis Stephanopoulos, Prime Minister Costas Simitis and main opposition New Democracy (ND) party leader Costas Karamanlis.
Former premier Mitsotakis:
Former Greek premier and honorary president of the main opposition New Democracy (ND) party Constantine Mitsotakis greeted Yilmaz by again voicing support for Turkey's European prospects, stressing though that Ankara must at the same time "accept the principles on which Europe was built".
"Turkey must follow Europe's lead...and not Europe Turkey's," Mitsotakis, the honorary president of the main opposition New Democracy party, said.
On his part, Yilmaz declined to make statements to reporters.
The veteran Greek politician's words largely echoed what Athens has been hammering at since a crucial Helsinki summit last December cleared the way for Turkey's designation as a EU candidate state. However, Greek anger over Ankara's claims during the course of a highly publicized NATO exercise in Turkey last month, a continued lack of progress over the Cyprus issue and recent unfavorable comments by Yilmaz himself dampened year-long optimism and goodwill generated by last summer's "seismic rapprochement" and the Helsinki decisions.
A largely unexpected deal by Papandreou and Turkish FM Ismail Cem this past week in Budapest to formulate a two sets of Confidence-Building Measures (CBMs) - one on a bilateral basis and another within the framework of NATO - somewhat reversed the negative climate prevailing throughout October.
Gov't spokesman Reppas:
Meanwhile, the government emphasized that Greece will once again make its positions regarding Greek-Turkish relations absolutely clear. Government spokesman Dimitris Reppas also cautioned that Turkey's recent negative stance, i.e. the NATO exercise "Destined Glory 2000," would be noted and that Ankara's responsibility in establishing a climate of regional friendship and cooperation would be re-stated.
Greece withdrew its forces from the Turkey-based exercise last month after Turkey objected to its use of air-corridors over the Greek islands of Limnos and Ikaria on the grounds that they were a "demilitarized zone" - a claim that angered Athens and was later disputed by NATO's legal service.
The exercise reciprocated the more successful NATO exercise "Dynamic Mix" based in Greece in September, in which Greek and Turkish forces harmoniously participated in a military exercise on Greek soil.
In response to questions on any EU-Turkey association agreement, the spokesman said Athens insisted that such a text must include the following three considerations: Firstly, the Copenhagen criteria; secondly relations between Greece and Turkey, and Turkey's obligation to create conditions of good neighborliness; and thirdly, the Cyprus problem.
Asked about the Papandreou-Cem understanding on CBMs, the spokesman stressed that the two foreign ministers had agreed on procedures, not issues.
Greece, he concluded, had clear positions and there was no reason for it to be afraid of discussing ways of reaching an understanding, something that could only be achieved if channels of communication were open. He also reiterated that the only issue that could be brought onto a negotiation table between Athens and Turkey was that of delimitation of the Aegean's continental shelf.
Source: Athens News Agency