NEWS

Turks warned off Iraq incursion

Greek officials are watching developments in Iraq closely and are particularly concerned in case there is any redrawing of borders in the region, warning of the problems that such changes brought to the former Yugoslavia. Of particular concern has been the possibility of Turkish troops entering northern Iraq. This is something that the European Union has warned against, and Greece, which is the Union’s current president, has also taken a strong stand on. In presenting the conclusions of the EU’s Spring Summit over which he presided in Brussels on Friday, Prime Minister Costas Simitis said that for the EU one of the priorities «is the protection of the territorial integrity of Iraq.» He said that Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul, who was present, had stressed this as well and had briefed EU members on Turkey’s position regarding developments. Foreign Minister George Papandreou yesterday discussed the issue with UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, Gul and US Assistant Secretary of State Marc Grossman, the minister told NET state television last night. «The picture is that the Turks say they have no plans to enter Iraq but they talk about refugees and what they term terrorism» as possible causes for this, Papandreou said. «But the Americans and Europeans have stressed that Turkey’s involvement in this area might cause significant problems,» he added. Government spokesman Christos Protopappas was more blunt. «This is a serious warning,» he said with regard to Turkey. Papandreou was careful to emphasize that Greece had no interest in getting involved in the issue directly but that the EU did and had taken a decision at its Spring Summit on Friday warning against Turkey’s entry into northern Iraq. Belgium, however, went so far as to say the EU would reconsider its position on Turkey’s joining the Union if it intervenes in Iraq. «Very strong pressure must be put on Turkey to let it know that taking such action will be a determining factor in refusing it entry to Europe,» Foreign Minister Louis Michel said on RTL-TV channel. «It is unthinkable that Turkey should join Europe if it goes into Kurdistan,» he added. Belgium and Germany have also said they might have to reconsider help they provided Turkey through NATO in case it comes under attack from Iraq. Defense Minister Yiannos Papantoniou, speaking on another NET program yesterday, said Greece was watching northern Iraq very closely. «Greece’s stable position is that borders must not change,» he said. «We saw what happened in the former Yugoslavia, when the international powers did not listen to Greece, which always said that borders must not change. This resulted in the destabilizing developments of the last decade, which are tied to a great extent with the revision of borders,» Papantoniou said. «We hope the international powers who are now determining the fate of Iraq have learned the lesson of the former Yugoslavia and will not allow Turkey to undertake this initiative, which everyone believes could lead to a further conflict in this very sensitive region,» he added. Papantoniou is to visit Washington next weekend, for talks with Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice. «As the EU presidency, we will look for a way to restore the operational relationship between the EU and the United States, in order to protect collective decisions and to avoid further unilateral interventions,» Papantoniou said. Foreign Minister Papandreou chaired a meeting of senior aides at the ministry Saturday to discuss ways of providing humanitarian assistance to the people of Iraq. Yesterday he told Athens’s Flash radio the Iraq «crisis has brought a great sense of bitterness and we have sensed this as no one else in Europe, as the EU’s presidency, with the differences between the member states.»