Exploratory talks open

The foreign ministers of Greece and Turkey met in New York yesterday and agreed on an «exploratory dialogue» between senior officials in their ministries that will focus on the differences between them. This, in effect, means that they will discuss Ankara’s demands for changes in the Aegean while Athens says that the only issue that it recognizes is the delineation of the Aegean’s continental shelf. Greece’s George Papandreou told reporters that he and his Turkish counterpart, Ismail Cem, had agreed to the start of exploratory contacts between their two ministries, at the level of political directors, to find points of convergence on the issues that concern their countries. Papandreou said also that the two had discussed the direct negotiations currently being held between President Glafcos Clerides and Turkish Cypriot leader, Rauf Denktash, on the future of Cyprus. The two ministers agreed to support Bulgaria and Romania in their bids to join NATO and reaffirmed their support for a joint Greek-Turkish proposal to host the 2008 European soccer championship, NET, Greece’s state television, reported. On Friday, Papandreou and Cem had a brief meeting in New York and decided on yesterday’s talks. Papandreou said on Friday that the Greek government had instructed senior diplomats to start exploratory contacts in order to see whether there was a possibility of solving the continental shelf problem as well as other «major» issues which were not part of territorial differences, such as the issue of the Patriarchate. Papandreou said that the start of talks on Cyprus and the island’s upcoming EU accession «constitute an important confluence of events that can help in the effort to change bilateral relations.» On Saturday, Papandreou told CNN-Turk that the two countries wanted to find a «joint framework» that would guarantee mutual respect, respect for territorial integrity and international law, respect for existing agreements and the peaceful resolution of differences. He said the two countries’ diplomatic services had been instructed to begin discussions as soon as possible. Papandreou and Cem met on the fringes of the World Economic Forum. They are to hold talks again in Turkey next week (February 12-13) at a meeting of EU countries and members of the Islamic conference.

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