Greek, Turkish FMs to tackle key disputes

Foreign Minister George Papandreou yesterday informed his colleagues at a meeting of the European Union’s Council of Foreign Ministers, in Brussels, that he will meet Turkey’s Foreign Minister Ismail Cem on February 12-13 in Istanbul to discuss possible ways to resolve bilateral differences involving, notably, the status of the Aegean Sea. This would mark the first time the foreign ministers of the two countries have officially discussed major policy issues. Until now, bilateral talks have involved, at least officially, «low-level» policy issues such as cultural exchanges and the environment. Cem did indicate last week that he and Papandreou have been discussing issues informally. Greece recognizes only one issue, the delimitation of the continental shelf in the Aegean, as a legitimate dispute with Turkey, saying that it would never discuss in bilateral talks Turkey’s claims on certain islands and Greek airspace, so as not to legitimize them. Turkey’s claims, according to the longstanding Greek position, must be brought before the International Court of Justice at The Hague. On Sunday, Cem told TV channel CNN-Turk that «there can be developments in the Aegean… Be it dialogue, mediation, arbitration or even the international court, we’re open to all.» This acceptance of the international court’s role paved the way for Papandreou’s announcement of their meeting. On another issue dividing Greece and Turkey, the role of the European defense force, Defense Minister Yiannos Papantoniou said yesterday, in a National Defense School conference celebrating 50 years of NATO, that the compromise with Turkey approved by the United States and Great Britain did not have Greece’s consent. Greece believes that Turkey will get too much leverage over the operations of this European body. «Greece supports the complementary action of (EU and NATO), in a manner that will ensure the European Union’s autonomy, without dependence on NATO installations,» Papantoniou told an audience that included NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander, General Joseph Ralston, and US Ambassador Thomas Miller. In his speech, Miller claimed that creating new infrastructures for an autonomous European army is financially undesirable, «unwise» and will affect NATO-EU collaboration. Several ministers and most high-ranking officials of Games organizers Athens 2004 will depart in the coming days for Salt Lake City, where the Winter Olympics will begin on February 8. The next scheduled visit of the IOC Coordination Commission will take place in early April.

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