Athens sees ‘a lot of work’ before Dec. 17

Greece and Cyprus yesterday lobbied strongly with the Dutch European Union presidency regarding the terms and conditions of the forthcoming decision on granting Turkey a starting date for its EU accession talks. Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis discussed the matter in Athens yesterday morning with Jan Peter Balkenende, his counterpart from the Netherlands, which holds the rotating EU presidency. The content of their talks was not made public, though Foreign Ministry spokesman Giorgos Koumoutsakos described the meeting as «a significant step.» Later, Balkenende flew to Cyprus for talks with President Tassos Papadopoulos. Ankara has so far resolutely refused to formally recognize the Republic of Cyprus, which in turn insists it must be recognized just as every other EU member – and has not ruled out the prospect of vetoing Turkey’s EU prospects during the Dec. 17 summit of the 25-state bloc. «Cyprus has no objections toward Turkey, as long as Turkey fulfills its obligations toward Cyprus,» Papadopoulos said after meeting with the Dutch PM. Balkenende suggested that a possible «cornerstone for solutions» would be for Ankara to extend its EU customs agreement to Cyprus. Koumoutsakos also conceded that this would be «a significant step towards recognition.» Both Athens and Nicosia are unhappy with a second draft resolution for the summit which has been made public this week. «It is a document that still requires a lot of work,» Koumoutsakos said. «The negotiations are tough and complex. Greece will continue its effort to secure the best possible text.» Turkey also objects to the draft.