PM: 2004 a key year

Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul yesterday ended an official visit to Greece that confirmed the vastly improved climate between the two countries and the fact that the most sensitive issues between them – Cyprus and the Aegean – are still unsolved. «Mr Gul leaves Greece on terms of greater understanding,» government spokesman Christos Protopappas said, expressing in this way the satisfaction that the good climate had been maintained. «Dialogue is a precondition for a better climate. And a better climate is a prerequisite for the creation of conditions necessary for solutions to problems,» he said. Prime Minister Costas Simitis met with Gul yesterday and they discussed Greek-Turkish relations, Turkey’s moves toward closer ties with the European Union, Cyprus and the issue of Turkish violations of Greek air space in the Aegean. Sources said that Simitis noted 2004 will be a significant year for issues related to Cyprus and Turkey’s road toward the EU and that solutions should be found. Gul reportedly replied that peaceful solutions were needed and that the EU should show its good will toward Turkey. According to the EU’s Helsinki Summit of 1999 and a decision made last year, problems between Greece and Turkey must be solved by the end of 2004 or be referred to the International Court of Justice at The Hague. The EU will evaluate Turkey’s contribution when it decides in late 2004 when to start accession talks with Ankara. Gul appeared to differ with a statement made by Turkey’s top soldier, Gen. Hilmi Ozkok, who told a Greek newspaper on Saturday that when Turkey joins the EU, all issues with Greece will be solved in a week. «We do not need to wait for EU accession» to solve the problems, Gul said in an interview with NET state television. Greek news media interpreted comments by Turkish PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan as a scolding of Turkish-Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash. «Those who could not solve the island’s problems for 40 years should not expect a new government to solve it in 11 months,» he said, adding that Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s plan should not be rejected. Thomas Weston, the US State Department coordinator for Cyprus, met with Foreign Minister George Papandreou in Athens. Denktash said he would refuse to meet Weston on Cyprus.