Turkey’s top soldier sees EU solution

Just days before Turkey’s Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul pays an official visit to Athens, his country’s top soldier set the scene with a statement suggesting that relations across the Aegean could only improve once Turkey joins the EU. But, General Hilmi Ozkok said, progress will then be rapid. In what he said was his first interview with a foreign news medium, the chairman of Turkey’s chiefs of staff told Athens’s Eleftherotypia on Saturday that his country wanted good relations with Greece but he made it clear that progress would not be easy. «We must make friendly relations with Greece a priority. There are some difficulties. Unfortunately, we are hostages of this historical problem,» Ozkok said. «There are national issues which have been interpreted differently (by the two sides) because Greece considers it has a right to control the (Athens) Flight Information Region as its border,» he said. He listed the issues as the sovereignty of islands in the Aegean, disagreement over Greece’s air space (whether 6 miles or 10 miles), the militarization of eastern Greek islands and others. But he noted that officials of the two countries were discussing them. «I think the negotiations are going well and if Turkey’s EU accession moves ahead, the problems in the Aegean and others will be solved within a week,» Ozkok said. The EU, however, in its Helsinki Summit in 1999, said that Turkey must solve its problems with Greece by the end of 2004. Also in November 2004, EU members will decide whether to begin accession talks with Turkey, based on Ankara’s efforts to solve the Cyprus problem and problems with Greece. Ozkok, however, said that 2004 was not a deadline. «This is not a last chance. As the decision states clearly, 2004 is not the final deadline for solving problems through the International Court but the date on which the European Council will examine the state of outstanding differences,» he said. Ozkok reiterated the Turkish claim of gray zones in the Aegean but, regarding a Turkish claim to the island of Gavdos, south of Crete, some years ago, he said: «This was a mistaken evaluation. I never supported it. Unfortunately, it was a statement by a lower officer. It was not state policy.»