Greece, Turkey look to the future

Prime ministers Costas Karamanlis and Recep Tayyip Erdogan met in Athens yesterday and confirmed the very good climate in relations between traditional rivals Greece and Turkey and their wish for a future of peaceful cooperation freed of the burdens of the past. Despite their being neighbors, Erdogan’s is only the fifth official visit to Greece by a Turkish prime minister since 1952. The two countries also nearly came to war in 1974, when Turkey invaded Cyprus, and in 1987, when Turkey sent an oil drilling ship into disputed waters in the Aegean. A year later, Turgut Ozal was the last Turkish prime minister to pay an official visit to Greece. In 1996 they nearly went to war over a disputed islet in the eastern Aegean. Following a three-hour private dinner at Karamanlis’s private residence on Thursday night and official talks at his office yesterday, both men stressed the friendly climate and the wish to solve problems between the two countries. «Mr Erdogan and I confirmed our political will to strengthen cooperation further at all levels and to exploit to the fullest degree the current positive momentum,» Karamanlis said. «I assured him of the Greek government’s support, and mine personally, in Turkey’s moves toward closer ties with Europe and the reforms that Mr Erdogan is promoting.» Erdogan, repeatedly referring to the personal friendship that he and Karamanlis have developed over the past few years, promised that the Halki Seminary in Turkey will soon reopen and expressed the wish for a peaceful settlement of differences between the two countries. «What we say is that we must look to the future. We must leave past incidents in the past,» Erdogan said. Karamanlis said that the two sides had decided that talks aimed at delineating the Aegean’s continental shelf would continue beyond December and that there was no commitment to take the issue to the International Court of Justice at The Hague by the time the EU is to decide whether to give Ankara a date for the start of accession talks. Although the EU summit at Helsinki in 1999 had suggested this deadline, sources said that Greece and Turkey would agree to take the issue to The Hague only if they had already come to an agreement. Erdogan is to pay a private visit to Western Thrace today, where he will meet with members of Greece’s Muslim minority and the staff of the Turkish consulate in Komotini. He will also meet with Macedonia-Thrace Minister Nikos Tsiartsionis and Deputy Foreign Minister Evripidis Stylianidis. On the official leg of his visit yesterday, Erdogan met with President Costis Stephanopoulos, held talks with Karamanlis and met with Parliament Speaker Anna Psarouda-Benaki and Greece’s political party leaders. He was awarded the gold medal of the City of Athens by Mayor Dora Bakoyannis. Erdogan and Karamanlis spoke at a meeting of the Greek-Turkish Business Council and also at an official dinner in the Turkish leader’s honor last night. Erdogan, who visited Athens shortly after his party won elections in November 2002 but was not yet prime minister, declared his happiness at being in Greece. «You know, I was born in Istanbul. I grew up there. When I was a child, I worked for some Greek businessmen. They were my employers and I always remember them with gratitude,» he told a joint news conference with Karamanlis. He noted that in the past five years the two countries had signed 25 bilateral agreements. «It makes me especially happy that many of the issues concerning the two countries can now be discussed at a bilateral level and not through third parties,» he said. An expansion in economic relations was one of the main issues the two prime ministers discussed. Karamanlis stressed that one of his intentions was «to examine the possibility of our cooperation in the transportation of oil.»

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