NEWS

Simitis’s toughest trip to the United States

Costas Simitis is heading for some difficult times in Washington, despite his intention to go to the talks with American President George W. Bush as the leader of an allied European country and not as a supplicant for American mediation to ensure the positive outcome of unresolved national issues. The political results of the visit will not be determined by what the Greek premier says, but by the demands the American leader makes of him. The Republican government has adopted a coercive policy – even with its allies – since the terrorist attacks in America on September 11. This applies particularly to Greece, which has a fairly negative image in the USA, even though the Greek government has completely fallen into line with American policy. Under pressure The Americans will bring heavy pressure to bear on Simitis for assurance that the Greek authorities will make arrests and prosecute individuals the Americans believe are involved with November 17 and other terrorist organizations. The Greek response is that the Americans must provide evidence which would make such accusations stand up in court. This reasonable response causes displeasure and even suspicion in Washington, which is still largely influenced by the view that Greece is slow in taking action against terrorism. Discussion of this matter is bound to be uncomfortable, but the really difficult issue will be the suffocating pressure on Simitis to agree to the formula the Americans and British have negotiated with Turkey concerning the European rapid reaction force. This topic is on the agenda and there is every indication that Bush will not confine himself simply to making recommendations. On the contrary, it is expected that talks on the Cyprus issue will produce the usual expressions of desire for a prompt and positive outcome to the negotiations between Cypriot President Glafcos Clerides and Turkish- Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash. Views on the situation in the Balkans will coincide with talks on the Cyprus issue, but it is not yet known whether the Americans will go further than expressing a wish for an improvement in Greek-Turkish relations. In other words, it is not known whether the American secretary of state and defense minister will try to promote more specific views. Balance? The fact that Turkish Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit is to visit Washington immediately after Simitis confirms that American diplomacy continues to treat Greece and Turkey as a special geopolitical package. But the treatment is not evenhanded. The State Department has always given Turkey priority, deeming it to have greater strategic importance. This is even more applicable now, not only because the ruling Republicans tend to overestimate Ankara’s role, but because the anti-terrorism campaign has influenced the allies’ judgment. Washington’s uneven treatment of the two countries is clearly evident from the way in which it has tackled a series of problems that Turkey’s expansionist claims have created – both within and outside NATO. A recent example is the refusal by the American National Imagery and Mapping Agency to include the sea border between Greece and Turkey on its digital map. Of greater importance is the fact that behind this refusal is the Americans’ partial acceptance that there is an unresolved issue. This is what emerges from the answers the map service gave to the newspaper Eleftherotypia, which publicized the matter. The government attempted, as it usually does in such cases, to downplay the matter. Initially Foreign Minister George Papandreou said he would make a diplomatic protest, but the subsequent response by Foreign Ministry spokesman Panos Beglitis is highly revealing. In essence, the minister’s official position was: «The practice being implemented is a technical record for the purposes of NATO and does not signify any political evaluation by the Americans.» As for the demarche, Beglitis explained: «A demarche is made to clarify matters.» Speaking at the reception in honor of the armed forces before the above statements were made, the Greek president put the matter in a completely different light, however. He criticized American policy toward Greece, saying it was «not friendly.» Intentions In fact, the USA maintains a cautious attitude toward Turkish claims, having gradually accepted that the Aegean is a problematic area and that for this reason there must be special regulations which deviate from international law. Some days ago, the Americans refused to help salvage an aircraft that sank during World War II off the coast of Leros, on the grounds that the Dodecanese are in a demilitarized zone. This is a classic case of swallowing a camel but straining at a gnat. Perhaps the most revealing admission of American intentions in the Aegean is a guideline developed in spring 1995 at the meeting of the Greek-American Joint Defense Committee on Rhodes by Joseph Nay, then American deputy defense secretary. Presenting a package of confidence-building measures, he stated that the Aegean was a special sea in which there were «doubtful areas.» For this reason he not only requested that international law not apply, but that even NATO regulations not apply. The fact that this was not just personal opinion or a deviation from Washington’s official line has been proven by the US attitude since. In an article published in March 1997 in an American naval journal, Professor Charles Messing, who was a senior State Department official and member of the American delegation for the new Marine Law, clearly stated that the Aegean had to be treated as «an international sea strait,» in other words, outside international law. He suggested that the Aegean should not be shared by Greece and Turkey, but that «a special international regime be imposed on the basis of a multilateral treaty.» American concerns about Greek-Turkish relations are important, but they depend to a large extent on the dynamics of the clash between Greece and Turkey. George Papandreou’s «open arms» diplomacy seems to have reached its limit, as Ankara continues to challenge the current legal status of the Aegean. But friction over the issue is under control for the moment, even though Ecevit has not concealed his impatience to move the dialogue on from anodyne matters to political haggling over the Aegean. A minefield Athens is avoiding this minefield, while making noble efforts to keep the tension down and keep bilateral rapprochement intact. But in order to achieve this, it has to keep playing down and dodging Turkish provocation including sometimes yielding on matters of national interest. A recent example is the government spokesman’s announcement virtually conceding that the Simitis government has accepted the Turkish NOTAM (Notice to Airmen) on the control of civilian aircraft flying to Rhodes and Nicosia. What has brought matters to a head is the final stage of Cyprus’s accession to the European Union. This process threatens to upset the political scene as shaped by the invasion and occupation of Cyprus. In this area, Turkey is facing a strategic crisis. Until December, Denktash’s terms for participation in bilateral talks were the recognition of his breakaway state and a bifederal regime. Turkey had directly threatened to annex the occupied areas if Cyprus joined the EU, but changed this tactic when it led to an impasse. The Clerides-Denktash negotiations begin on January 16, but lifting the procedural barrier is no guarantee of a solution. So Ankara’s dilemma remains unchanged. If the negotiations founder, Ankara will obviously blame the Greek side in an attempt to urge Europeans who do not want to inherit the Cyprus problem into breaking their commitment to incorporate Cyprus regardless of whether the political problem has been solved. So Turkey is hindering the island’s EU accession by raising the tension, so as to make the Europeans afraid of taking on more than they can chew. Concessions In evaluating these indirect but clear threats from Turkey, the Greek government has tried to prevent such an outcome, and this is the basic explanation for its policy of appeasement and the concessions it has made. But in cases where one party is determined to increase the tension, it is difficult to prevent it. The growing number of airspace infringements in the Aegean is an unfailing indication of Turkish intentions. It is Ankara’s standard tactic on the eve of any important negotiations to put the Greek side under pressure in an attempt to extract more concessions. And there are two important meetings coming up: Simitis with Bush and Clerides with Denktash. The crucial question is whether this is just a coincidence or the beginning of a general policy aimed at preventing Cyprus’s EU accession. Diplomats and military officials in Athens believe the latter, and this explains Defense Minister Yiannos Papantoniou’s warnings. The rocky history of delineating the border in the northern Aegean The absence of the maritime border between Greece and Turkey from the digital map prepared by the American National Imagery and Mapping Agency (NIMA) for NATO brought back into the news an outstanding matter which Ankara is exploiting in order to create confusion. The fact that no Greek-Turkish protocol has been signed for the technical delineation of the border in the northern Aegean does not mean that there is no border. This process is analogous to the process of placing markers on land borders. The Greek-Albanian border has existed since 1913 when the Albanian State was established, but the markers were only put in place a few years ago. In the southern Aegean, the maritime border was delineated by the Italian-Turkish protocol of 1932, which remains in force because Greece is the successor of the Italian State in terms of sovereignty over the Dodecanese. Despite the fact that Imia is clearly mentioned as part of the Dodecanese Islands, which belonged to Italy, Turkey has challenged this. Article 12 of the 1023 Treaty of Lausanne, which determines sovereignty in the northern Aegean, confirms «the sovereignty of Greece over the islands of the eastern Mediterranean [Ed. which belonged to the Ottoman Empire], except for Imvros, Tenedos and the Lagousi islands, especially the islands of Lemnos, Samothrace, Mytilene, Chios, Samos and Icaria.» The same article specifically mentions the exception that «apart from any provision to the contrary in this treaty, the islands which are less than three miles from the Asian coast remain under Turkish rule.» Despite this, Turkey describes the Greek rocky islets as gray zones. When Tansu Ciller was prime minister she told the Hurriet daily: «So far, Turkey has subconsciously accepted that these islands in fact belong to Greece. We will change that.»