Turkish FM visits Athens

Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul arrived in Athens yesterday for his first official visit to Greece and both he and his hosts made every effort to stress the benefits of improved relations between their two nations. They committed themselves to furthering the dialogue. «In all our meetings, the Greek and new Turkish government have maintained the will to make progress down the road that the two countries have opened, to entrench all that we have achieved and to broaden cooperation,» Foreign Minister George Papandreou remarked at a ceremony welcoming Gul at Athens International Airport. His visitor responded, «We are two countries on the shores of the same sea and if anything encourages our governments to keep up our mutual efforts, it is the will of the two people to turn the Aegean into a sea of peace, cooperation and development.» He added, «the determination is clear on both sides.» At the airport, the two avoided mention of contentious issues such as Cyprus and Turkish claims in the Aegean. But Papandreou said talks later would deal with these matters and Turkey’s efforts to start EU accession talks. National Economy and Finance Minister Nikos Christodoulakis reached a deal with Turkish Finance Minister Kemal Unakitan, who is accompanying Gul, to eliminate double taxation between the two countries. The agreement will be signed in December when Christodoulakis visits Ankara. At a later news conference with Papandreou, Gul said the deal is expected to boost bilateral trade from the current $1 billion annually. He said also that tourism would increase because of the Olympics next year. Papandreou said Greece would ask the EU for permission to allow foreign tourists in Turkey to make one-day trips to Greece without visas. «Our bilateral relations have entered a new context. This does not mean that there are no longer any problems,» Papandreou said. He said talks with Gul had focused on Cyprus and talks between Greek and Turkish officials on a range of issues. Gul met with President Costis Stephanopoulos yesterday afternoon and held talks for two hours with Papandreou in the evening, before the Greek minister hosted a reception in his honor. Gul will meet with Prime Minister Costas Simitis at 10 a.m. today, after a working breakfast with members of a business forum. He will leave at 11.30 a.m. Papandreou took Gul on a helicopter tour of Olympic construction projects shortly after the Turkish delegation arrived. Gul also met with officials involved in the Olympic preparations, such as Athens 2004 head Gianna Angelopoulos-Daskalaki, Culture Minister Evangelos Venizelos and Public Order Minister Giorgos Floridis. The Turkish minister signed the Olympic Truce, a UN-backed initiative to revive the ancient Greek tradition of ending hostilities for the duration of the Olympic Games so that warring cities could take part. «For us it is a great honor and recognition to host the Olympic Games, a great opportunity not only to reshape our city, but also to send a message, in general, of cooperation and peace for the broader Balkan region,» Papandreou said. Earlier, he said that the Olympic torch relay, on its way across five continents, will pass through Istanbul. Today, the 16th round of talks between the general secretaries of the Greek and Turkish foreign ministries will be held in Athens, Foreign Ministry spokesman Panayiotis Beglitis said.