Issues on NATO fringe

Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis arrived in Istanbul yesterday, at a time of heightened alert in the Turkish city for the NATO summit that is to be held today and tomorrow. The main issues on the agenda are the extent to which the alliance will strengthen its presence in Afghanistan and how it will get involved in Iraq. But the presence of US President George W. Bush in Turkey was also an opportunity for him to press for the EU to give Ankara a date for the start of accession talks. In a meeting with Ecumenical Patriarch Vartholomaios, Bush also supported the Orthodox leader’s call for the swift reopening of the seminary on the isle of Halki which the Turkish government closed in 1971. «In private, he told me that he gave Ankara the message regarding the issue of Halki, and that he met with a response,» Vartholomaios told Karamanlis when they met at the Patriarchate. Earlier, Vartholomaios and other religious leaders met with Bush at his hotel. Vartholomaios also noted that, like Bush, the Patriarchate and the Greek government were in favor of Turkey’s closer ties with the EU. «It remains to be seen that it does all that needs to be done, to adopt EU principles,» Karamanlis noted. Sources in Athens have made clear that Greece will not be able to offer any more troops to those that it has in Afghanistan, nor will it contribute any to the coalition occupying Iraq. Officials cite the heightened security needs of the Athens Olympics this August for the country’s inability to contribute any more troops or materiel. On another issue, Greece is said to not be prepared to restructure its armed forces nor to commit a specific number of troops that can be on standby for the alliance’s needs. Defense Minister Spilios Spiliotopoulos, who is accompanying Karamanlis, met with his counterparts yesterday and the 26 ministers failed to reach agreement on having 40 percent of their armies ready for such missions. In his meeting with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Bush said, «I believe you ought to be given a date by the EU for eventual acceptance by the EU.» Erdogan urged the USA to help end the international isolation of the Turkish Cypriots after the overwhelming support they gave backing to a failed UN plan to reunify the island, a source told the Agence France-Presse.