NEWS

Athens entertains considerable hopes of Erdogan’s visit to the Greek capital

Today’s meeting between Greek Prime Minister Costas Simitis and Recep Tayyip Erdogan will decide to a large extent whether Greek-Turkish relations can be rebuilt on a new, more positive basis, in collaboration with the political forces that won an overwhelming victory in the recent elections. Sources say the Greek premier does not see his meeting with the leader of the Justice and Development Party (AK) as a public relations exercise. On the contrary, he has decided to have a full and frank discussion with Erdogan which will focus on rapid developments in the Cyprus issue. Given the fluid political situation in Ankara, the Greek government is naturally adopting a low-key approach to the visit, since nobody rules out the possibility that the new strongman in Turkey might prove to have rigid positions on bilateral issues, and primarily on Cyprus. But behind the scenes, great expectations are entertained. Athens believes Erdogan represents social and economic groups which are moving in quite a different direction from the Turkish diplomatic-military regime, that he might prove a reliable interlocutor, and that current impasses in bilateral relations might be broken. Besides, the invitation from Simitis and Erdogan’s tour of European capitals indicate the EU’s willingness to support the «Erdogan experiment» after the collapse of the traditional political scene in Turkey. Today, Simitis will sound out Erdogan’s views, exchange opinions with him on the full spectrum of bilateral relations, and especially on the Cyprus question, Turkey’s EU prospects and the Aegean. As for the Cyprus issue, Simitis will make it clear that the Greek-Cypriot side will negotiate the Annan proposal, and that it is ready to work constructively so as to get, if possible, a signature to the agreement before the Copenhagen summit on December 12, asking Erdogan to help so that Ankara moves in the same direction. The premier will be equally firm on Turkey’s EU prospects, an issue he discussed by telephone with US President George W. Bush on Friday. Simitis will tell Erdogan that Athens believes the EU should give Turkey a positive message at Copenhagen. Though the EU will probably not give a starting date for accession talks in Copenhagen, the premier will at least argue for «a date for a date.» He may say that any decision on the starting date should be taken at the Thessaloniki summit, for instance. And Simitis will propose that following the formation of the new Turkish government, new impetus be given to the procedural dialogue that has been conducted in recent months among foreign ministers and senior officials on issues concerning the Aegean. Diplomatic sources say substantial work has been done. If the political problem of Cyprus is settled, there could be rapid developments concerning the issue of the continental shelf.