NEWS

Ecevit hails ‘dialogue’

A statement by Turkish Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit to the effect that Greece and Turkey were involved in secret negotiations on the Aegean was rejected by Athens yesterday but revealed Ankara’s effort to begin a «political» dialogue on the longstanding demands it has been making against Greece’s interests. Speaking on Thursday at the National Press Club in Washington during his official working visit to the United States, Ecevit said that Turkey would not go to the International Court of Justice at The Hague to present its claims against Greece, saying that «the question of the Aegean is not legal but political.» «The Aegean, in my opinion, has to be redefined, in view of changing conditions and laws which change,» Ecevit said. «So our advice is to approach this as mature neighbors and discuss the necessities of the situation in the Aegean, its special nature, and to reach agreement on a solution that will satisfy both sides,» he said. He then suggested that Greece and Turkey were discussing precisely this. «I am very glad that in the last three years a sort of dialogue has started between Turkey and Greece and our ministers of foreign affairs, Mr. (George) Papandreou and Mr. (Ismail) Cem, have been conferring with each other often, not always in the eyes of the press but sometimes privately,» Ecevit said. He added that although Prime Minister Costas Simitis has repeatedly said that the only way out of the problem was the International Court, «In the last two or three years, and especially in the last months, the dialogue between the two countries has grown and become more evident. Mr Papandreou and Mr Cem are meeting sometimes in a friendly atmosphere. We don’t know details about the content of their talks, but I am sure that they are determined to reach a formula which will satisfy the expectations of both countries.» Athens, which says that the only outstanding issue in the Aegean is the delineation of the continental shelf, rejected Ecevit’s claim. «Turkey is trying to create a diversion to deal with the dead ends to which its intransigence has brought it,» government spokesman Christos Protopapas said. Papandreou stressed that despite the Turkish prime minister’s claims, «the solutions to Greek-Turkish problems are legal.» He did not rule out a dialogue with Ankara on the basis of the decision at the EU summit at Helsinki calling on candidate countries (which include Turkey) to solve «every outstanding border dispute» before these problems go to the International Court. New Democracy’s shadow foreign minister, Dora Bakoyianni, criticized the government, saying that with its policy it appeared to be facilitating Turkey’s aim of achieving an overall negotiation of the situation in the Aegean. Defense Minister Yiannos Papantoniou criticized Ankara’s «systematic questioning» of Greece’s sovereign rights.