FM: Nothing to fear

Foreign Minister George Papandreou declared yesterday that Greece had nothing to fear from dialogue with Turkey and assured skeptical MPs that Greece would not discuss Turkish claims infringing its sovereignty. Papandreou told a gathering of fellow-European foreign ministers on Monday that he and his Turkish counterpart Ismail Cem would meet in Istanbul on February 12 and 13 for «exploratory talks» on issues dividing the two countries. Greece considers the delimitation of the continental shelf in the Aegean as the only legitimate dispute between itself and Turkey. Turkey argues that the islands do not have a «continental shelf» of their own. Greece is in possession of all but a handful of Aegean islands. Turkey has also disputed Greece’s sovereignty over certain minor islands, as well as the extent of its air space, which extends further (by 10 miles) than its territorial waters (6 miles). Turkey has also warned that an extension of Greece’s territorial waters to 12 miles, allowed under the Law of the Sea, would be a cause for war. Greece has replied that it reserves the right to extend territorial waters. Until now, Greek governments have refused to discuss bilateral disputes with Turkey, to avoid legitimizing its claims. Turkey has turned down Greece’s suggestion that they bring their dispute over the continental shelf to the International Court of Justice. Papandreou’s announcement on Monday followed Cem’s statement, on Sunday, that it would be willing to consider that option. Greek politicians, used to the formula «we claim nothing, we concede nothing» that underpinned Greece’s refusal to discuss, are jittery at Papandreou’s approach, which is based on the premise that Greece would gain nothing, least of all understanding and support for its views, from clinging to its previous stance. This was evident yesterday, when politicians from all sides pressed Papandreou to break off the talks immediately rather than concede any points to Turkey. Main opposition party New Democracy said that it would agree to dialogue if Turkey «accepts the rule of international law and international treaties,» according to foreign affairs spokesman Dora Bakoyianni. Some New Democracy members went further, demanding a statement from Cem to that effect. Papandreou replied that he did not expect Cem to do so at the outset but promised «not to continue if I don’t get an answer.» «We do not conduct a dialogue on all issues and we do not negotiate any of our sovereign rights. I believe fear is a bad counsel. We proceed with prudence, care and confidence at a juncture more favorable than in the past,» Papandreou said.

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