Both Greece and Turkey have legitimate and vital interests in the Aegean that are extremely important for their security and national sovereignty, according to Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul in this interview with Kathimerini ahead of Greek Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis’s meeting in Istanbul this week with his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Gul observed that in signing the Madrid accord in 1997, both countries had committed themselves to resolving their differences peacefully. Nevertheless, he would not say why the casus belli passed by the Turkish National Assembly against Greece still held. He said Ankara was determined to take steps toward improving bilateral relations but called for respect for «the concerns of the other side.» Gul said Turkey expected Greece to support its full accession to the European Union and welcomed Greek Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis’s statements of support. He called on the leaders of France and Germany to convince their peoples of the benefits to be gained from Turkey’s accession, warning that at a time when extremism threatened to divide humanity, the EU should not ignore Turkey’s «placatory role.» Turning to Cyprus, Gul believes the solution should be a «new partnership state» but said «the intransigence of the Greek Cypriots» left little room for optimism. German Chancellor Angela Merkel is against full EU membership for Turkey, as is French President Nicolas Sarkozy. Do you believe this will change? Do you see anything positive in Sarkozy’s proposal for a Mediterranean Union? Turkey is a country negotiating full membership in the European Union. The decision to begin negotiations was unanimous on the part of all member states including Germany and France. Cooperation between Mediterranean nations and access to the EU are two different issues. We believe cooperation between Mediterranean nations is important, but we should make existing bodies more effective rather than undertaking new initiatives. We realize that some states have difficulties arising from the public’s view of further enlarging the EU. We are willing to cooperate with these countries and to ease their concerns, which are mainly due to mistaken ideas as to what Turkey’s accession really means. Therefore the political elite in each of these countries bears a great responsibility. European citizens must learn that enlargement will help strengthen Europe’s economy. Each country that joins provides new jobs, new markets and investment opportunities. Europe’s political leaders should explain again and again that Turkey is the true testing ground for a fundamental question: Will Europe ever be able to play the part of a global force, to assume responsibilities at an international level and contribute to the creation of a peaceful world with sustainable development? Greece supports full accession for Turkey on the condition that it fulfills all the criteria, including good-neighborly relations and the implementation of the customs union with the Republic of Cyprus. Turkey expects Greece to provide clear support for Turkey’s accession process. So we welcome recent statements by Greek Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis regarding Turkey’s full membership. Mutual understanding and respect for each other’s sensitivities based on good-neighborly relations is essential for furthering a constructive atmosphere in Greek-Turkish relations. On the basis of that understanding, Turkey is determined to contribute further to the positive trend that is emerging in our bilateral relations. We are aware that friendly relations based on mutual respect and trust are of vital importance not only for our two countries but for strengthening peace, security and stability in Southeastern Europe. Shouldn’t international law be the basis for settling the situation in the Aegean? Don’t you think that the threat of war, the casus belli, is an anomaly between two countries in the same alliance? Turkey is determined to have good-neighborly relations with Greece. We are pleased with the progress achieved by our two countries during the period of rapprochement and dialogue. Turkey and Greece have legitimate and vital interests and concerns in the Aegean which are of great importance for their security and national sovereignty. Both countries are bound by the Treaty of Madrid in 1997 to respect those principles, as well as to settle their differences by peaceful means on the basis of mutual agreement. How would you describe your relationship with your Greek counterpart Dora Bakoyannis, considering the cancellation of your visit to Athens in December and again in March? My visit to Athens was postponed in December because Ms Bakoyannis had to attend an ad hoc meeting of the UN Security Council at that time. I could not come in March as my schedule did not permit it on the eve of the presidential elections at home. The close personal relations and affinity that develop between the politicians and officials of Turkey and Greece have greatly contributed to the dialogue between the two countries. I believe that the positive climate that has developed between myself and my Greek counterpart is no exception. How do you evaluate the political and economic influence of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation (BSEC) organization? The BSEC was launched at a time when economic cooperation was a pressing need in addition to stability and security in the region. When it was established, it set security as one of the sectors of cooperation in order to build mutual trust and solidarity between its members. Much has been done to create an environment of understanding and cooperation in the Black Sea region, where bilateral disputes still exist. Turkey and Greece are two important countries cooperating within the context of the BSEC toward building stability and prosperity in the region. I believe that spirit of cooperation has had a positive influence on Greek-Turkish relations. Can you comment on the factors that prevented your election to the presidency? Turkey is a very dynamic country. Recently, under our leadership over the past four years, it has become a society with greater transparency. Democracy is developing quickly. We believe that we will overcome all challenges by democratic means. What happened, happened. We have to look ahead. We will overcome these problems, since Turkey is growing and developing. Hand in hand with all institutions, we will make Turkey stronger. We have both the determination and the ability. Our goals are a strong democracy, a civil society, a strong and modern army. How optimistic are you that the ruling Justice and Development Party will win the July 22 elections and, if so, what will its priorities be? As a government, we have achieved a great deal in the economic and political domains. Turkey is now among the 20 largest economies in the world with a GDP of the order of 400 billion dollars. Turkey has seen a growth rate of 35 percent over the past four years. Its total trade volume reached 223 billion dollars in 2006, when 20 million tourists visited the country, bringing in revenue of 12.5 billion dollars. The volume of our exports is expected to reach 100 billion dollars in 2007. There has been a considerable increase in foreign investments in Turkey compared to previous decades. Direct foreign investments reached 20 billion dollars in 2006. Decisive factors in achieving these goals have been trust, stability and predictability. My government has introduced these concepts to Turkey. In the political sector we have introduced many reforms, bringing legislation in line with the political criteria laid down in Copenhagen. A segment of the foreign press has described these reforms as a «silent revolution.» We are determined to continue with the reform process, which has had a positive effect on people’s lives both in the cities and in rural areas. What are the chances for progress on Cyprus after the elections in Turkey, then in Greece and then in Cyprus next February? The Cyprus issue has been on the United Nations agenda for over 40 years. The parameters for an effective solution are known: bizonality and political equality within the framework of a new partnership state. Unfortunately, the current situation does not bode well for progress. The side that rejected the UN plan in 2004 has been making a futile attempt over the past three years to move the basis of the Cyprus issue from the UN to the EU in order to get unilateral concessions from Turkey. If that intransigent policy continues, I fear that there will be no margin for optimism.