Gul: Karamanlis a ‘friend of Turkey’

Turkey’s Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul, the ruling Justice and Development Party’s candidate for the country’s presidential elections that began on Friday, has called Greek Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis a «friend of Turkey» and if elected president in the third round on May 9, intends to invest in good relations with Greece, according to Turkish sources close to Gul who spoke with him after he announced his candidacy. The would-be president of Turkey does not, however, hold the same opinion of Cypriot President Tassos Papadopoulos, whom he regards as the main obstacle to resolving the Cyprus issue. Gul failed to gain the required majority of two-thirds of the vote in Friday’s first round, but looks set to win the third round – where only a simple majority is required. Despite the problems that have arisen in the election process, the current foreign minister appears optimistic that he will be his country’s next president. He has made it clear that he does not intend to limit himself to the role of a figurehead but is determined to have a direct influence on formulating foreign policy, which he considers his own turf. He is expected to maintain his many international contacts, to continue his visits abroad and exploit to the full the powers that his new post as the head of state will afford him in promoting Turkish interests on the world stage. Gul said that he does not believe that relations with Greece pose any problem. With regard to the Aegean, he said he intended to support a low-key policy and to avoid friction. Gul has some experience with handling occasional friction over the Aegean and the Cyprus problem, has co-signed confidence-building measures and is in favor of a reduction in and disarmament of military flights over the Aegean, something that has also been suggested by the armed forces Chief of Staff General Yasar Buyukanit. According to the same sources, Gul believes that the Greek prime minister is sincere in his support for Turkey’s accession to the European Union. The sources said that Gul «does not place Greece among the countries that pose a problem for Turkey, such as Germany, France, Austria, the Netherlands and, for obvious reasons, Cyprus.» Indicative of Gul’s approach is a statement from an earlier interview with this journalist: «We are neighbors, since we are (both) in this corner of the world. Our goal is to have good relations so that problems can be resolved peacefully. What is important is that both countries are well-intentioned, that we are working hard, that talks are in progress, and I can say that progress has been made. We are optimistic. Both sides realize that we have to resolve our problems.» A Turkish analyst who is close to Gul told Kathimerini that although Gul «does not see himself as a personal friend of the Greeks, he is not a nationalist but, on the contrary, is a pragmatist and does not want conflict,» something that augurs well for a quiet period in Greek-Turkish relations. As president, Gul would be receiving Karamanlis in Istanbul on June 25 for the 10th anniversary of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation Organization (BSEC). It is also likely that the Greek prime minister will visit Turkey again in July for the opening of the natural gas pipeline from Turkey to Greece. Gul knows Greece well, having visited frequently and having worked with both the governments of New Democracy and its predecessor PASOK. He has had talks with successive Greek foreign ministers George Papandreou, Petros Molyviatis and Dora Bakoyannis. Gul as president of Turkey (for a seven-year term) would be a satisfactory development for Bakoyannis. Some see Gul’s candidacy as being behind his decision to cancel a proposed visit to Greece at the end of March. The truth is that the clumsy way the Greek Foreign Ministry handled the postponement of Gul’s original plans to visit last December, along with Athens’s unusually strong support for Nicosia on the question of opening up Turkish ports and airports to Cypriot ships and aircraft, had annoyed Gul, according to one of his close associates who spoke to Kathimerini at the time. Cyprus As foreign minister, Gul has given priority to resolving the Cyprus issue, with which he has been involved for over four years. He played a major role in the Lucerne talks where he had frequent contacts with the press corps. After the rejection of the plan proposed by then UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, he felt that the Greek Cypriots had deceived the international community and were not called to account for it. He blamed Papadopoulos for perpetuating the problem. Last year he said that the Cyprus issue had «poisoned» Turkey’s EU accession process. He linked Turkey’s EU accession with a solution to the Cyprus problem, saying he wanted a clear sign of the EU’s intention to accept Turkey into its ranks, otherwise there was no reason to resolve the issue. Gul’s rise to the presidency, however, would limit artificial alibis. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan will not be able to cite opposition from the president in order to justify his unwillingness to take certain steps. The United States and the EU, where Gul is known to believe in improving relations with these two pillars of the democratic West, have viewed his candidacy with satisfaction. In contrast to outgoing President Ahmet Necdet Sezer, Gul speaks foreign languages (Arabic and English) and is personally acquainted with many important officials on the international chessboard, including US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. US officials told Kathimerini that they view Gul as a «reformer» who wants «compromise and reconciliation» on international problems and as someone who has worked well with Washington. Of course that does not mean his relations with the Americans and Europeans are all plain sailing. There was tension with the USA after a refusal by the Turkish National Assembly in which Gul’s party has the majority, to allow US forces access to Iraq through Turkish territory, but also due to heightened anti-Americanism in Turkey which Washington believes the current Turkish government is turning a blind eye to. Ankara, meanwhile, has not concealed its anger over the USA’s strong support for the Kurds in northern Iraq which has helped the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). As for Europe, vacillations on Turkey’s accession process have created suspicion on both sides, but Gul, who is well-known in Brussels, is seen as one of the most moderate voices working to maintain bridges with the EU.

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