NEWS

Foreign policy is 2002’s priority

Addressing a meeting of his Cabinet yesterday, Prime Minister Costas Simitis said that the government will concentrate on foreign policy this year, listing as its priorities Greek-Turkish relations and Cyprus. He also stressed that Greece’s interests demanded closer ties with the United States and greater efforts to combat terrorism. «The new year finds Greece in a stronger position internationally and with greater credibility. This results from our participation in the eurozone, but also from our initiatives in Southeastern Europe and our active participation in our international alliances,» Simitis said after a five-hour meeting. «Our visit to Washington confirmed the stronger position of our country,» he said. Simitis visited Washington last week and met with President George W. Bush. Turkish Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit met with the US president on Wednesday, and discussed the Greek-Turkish issues that concern Athens as well. «Our national interests demand that our country strengthen its ties with the international community, and especially with the United States of America for the intensification of the war against international terrorism,» Simitis said. He said that his government would concentrate on Cyprus’s accession to the European Union, resolving the Cyprus problem and pushing for Turkey to take its claims on the Aegean to the International Court at The Hague by 2004. «The time has come for these demands of ours to meet with a response,» Simitis said. He, and Foreign Minister George Papandreou, left open a window for a dialogue with Ankara on bilateral issues. Simitis stressed that Athens has the will and the opportunity within the EU to promote Cyprus’s accession. Greece’s stabilizing role in the Balkans was also a priority, he said. Regarding Cyprus, where the leaders of two communities have agreed to hold intensive negotiations aimed at ending the island’s division, Simitis said that a positive outcome would «contribute radically to improving the climate of trust between Greece and Turkey.» He said also that Greece was looking forward to reaching agreement on a permanent name for the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. Foreign Minister Papandreou presented his Cabinet colleagues with a four-page document outlining the government’s foreign policy priorities. Regarding Turkey, it said that this would entail «an aggressive policy of cooperation and dialogue aimed at easing the tension and building relations of good neighborliness.» According to sources, the document also said: «With our policy, we shape developments… We have given the Greek people a sense of security which no chance crisis or threat or doubt can shake.» Papandreou’s paper noted also that domestic terrorism created negative publicity for Greece and that the November 17 terrorist organization had to be caught. The document stressed that the Greek plan for Balkan reconstruction would be promoted quickly. Papandreou called on government ministries to cooperate in planning a communications campaign to promote Greece’s positions in the international news media. Sources said that the foreign minister was involved in a heated exchange with Defense Minister Yiannos Papantoniou regarding Athens’s Turkey policy. Papantoniou reportedly said that it was wrong to appear flexible toward Turkey at this time and he referred to Turkish violations of Greek airspace. Papandreou responded that diplomatic initiatives were the best guarantee for the country’s security. Simitis, and most ministers, took the side of the foreign minister. Cypriots to focus on core issue When they meet on Monday at the start of intensive, open-ended negotiations aimed at solving their island’s division, President Glafcos Clerides and Turkish-Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash are expected to focus on the thorny problem of the distribution of powers in a reunited Cyprus. This will allow each side to sense how far the other is prepared to go and whether Cyprus will be more of a federation (as the Greek Cypriots want and UN Security Council resolutions demand) or a confederation, as the Turkish Cypriots want. The two Cypriot leaders began this discussion on Wednesday, when they agreed to meet every Monday, Wednesday and Friday from now on. They did not negotiate but they were sounding each other out, setting out the basic parameters of the Cyprus issue for 45 minutes. Diplomatic sources said that this was the first substantial discussion between Clerides and Denktash since 1997, when they held a round of negotiations at Glion, Switzerland, and came after 57 meetings between the two. Foreign observers close to the talks believe conditions are more positive now. Denktash, however, yesterday tried to lower expectations of a quick breakthrough. «Everybody should know what can and can’t be done for a compromise,» he said. An armed robber made off with 24,000 euros after holding up a branch of Commercial Bank in Palaio Faliro, southern Athens, yesterday morning and two men got away with 14,500 euros and 1.2 million drachmas after an armed raid on a branch of National Bank in Dafni later in the day. The first robber fled on a motorbike while the second duo drove off in a waiting car.