Greece, UK clash over Turkey stance

A day after Nicosia slammed London for its stance on Turkey’s non-recognition of Cyprus, Athens yesterday also cast doubt on the impartiality of Britain as the country holding the current presidency of the EU. Irked by Britain’s recent behavior, Greece, which has so far maintained a low profile on the issue, decided to express its concerns. «The principle of impartiality is fundamental to the successful course of every EU presidency,» said Foreign Ministry spokesman Giorgos Koumoutsakos. «Developments over the last 24 hours during discussions in Brussels over this matter have, I am afraid, made it necessary for us to repeat this.» Athens, diplomatic sources said, is particularly upset because even though Britain says it is backing feverish negotiations at the level of the Council of Permanent Representatives (COREPER), Foreign Secretary Jack Straw made public comments on Thursday effectively saying that it was vital to draw Ankara into the EU at all costs. The Greek government believes that since Britain holds the six-month rotating presidency of the EU, it should more accurately reflect the position of all 25 member states, including Greece and Cyprus, rather than looking to follow its own foreign policy goals. «It is obvious that no presidency should use the powers that it has to promote purely national political choices,» Koumoutsakos said. However, British diplomats denied that London was taking sides. «The British presidency of the EU has exercised its duties impartially and will continue to do so seeking to reconcile the views of all the member states,» said British Ambassador to Greece Simon Gass in response to the statement from Koumoutsakos. The failure of EU diplomats to agree on the text of the counter-declaration to Turkey’s decision in July to issue a statement reaffirming its refusal to recognize Cyprus means that it is increasingly likely that EU foreign ministers will have to step in to try and strike some kind of deal. Turkey is due to start accession talks on October 3 and Cypriot Foreign Minister George Iacovou yesterday said he doubted whether an agreement could be reached on the counter-declaration before then.