Bilateral differences

If current Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan remains the dominant political figure in Turkey after the 2007 elections, either as president or prime minister, and Costas Karamanlis is re-elected prime minister of Greece, they might dare to solve any Greek-Turkish differences. The two leaders have created a personal rapport, and as of 2008 they will have ample time ahead of them, free of electoral obstacles, to take the necessary action. A renewed mandate from the people and extra time will allow Karamanlis to disregard the political cost and Erdogan to manage the army and the deep state better. Of course, such an endeavor requires mutual trust. What steps have been taken to build that trust? October 2003: As leader of the opposition, Karamanlis sent a greeting to the first congress of Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party. November 2003: On the evening of his victory in the elections, Erdogan took a different stance from the military establishment and his predecessor Bulent Ecevit, stating that the status quo in Cyprus was unacceptable and that the time had come to settle the Cyprus issue. March 2004: Two days before the elections in Greece, Erdogan spoke by telephone with Karamanlis and wished him good luck. At the end of that month, they participated in the marathon four-day negotiating session on Cyprus in Lucerne. April 2004: The rejection of the Annan plan by the Greek Cypriots did not damage the personal relationship between the two leaders, as was evident when Erdogan visited Greece two weeks later. May 2004: Erdogan became the first Turkish prime minister since Turgut Ozal in 1988 to visit Athens. With the consent of Athens, he became the first in 52 years to tour Thrace. July 2004: The political relationship acquired family overtones. Karamanlis was best man at the wedding of the Turkish prime minister’s daughter. It was a move with clear political symbolism. July 2005: At Evros on the border, the two leaders jointly inaugurated the construction of the pipeline that will take natural gas to Italy and the rest of Europe. In the past two years, the relationship has flagged. Disputes in Brussels over opening Turkish ports and airports to Cypriot ships and aircraft and trade with Turkish-Cypriots, the collision of the fighter jets over Karpathos, Ankara’s decision to raise the issue of the minority in Thrace, Erdogan’s displeasure at the erection of a monument to massacred Pontic Greeks in Thessaloniki, and postponements of Karamanlis’s visit to Ankara and Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul’s visit to Athens have worsened the climate. Karamanlis would have liked to leave a legacy of normalized bilateral relations with Turkey as his legacy, and believes that Erdogan is willing to take steps. «I am a still expecting my friend Costas in Turkey,» the Turkish premier often says. If he makes the first step, lifting the threat of war on Greece, he may welcome his friend and his daughter’s best man to Ankara in 2008.

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