PM upbeat in landmark Turkey visit

Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis yesterday called for the «full normalization of Greek-Turkish relations» during a landmark trip to Ankara, the first by a Greek premier in nearly half a century. «This is the only road toward essential progress that will allow us to exploit future opportunities within a European framework,» Karamanlis said after talks with his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Greece’s PM urged Turkey to respect its commitments as a European Union candidate member and recognize Cyprus, saying that a settlement for the divided island would immediately improve bilateral relations. Karamanlis also pressed Turkish authorities to improve rights for Greeks living in Turkey, primarily by reopening the Halki Orthodox Seminary off Istanbul, again putting the onus on Ankara’s European prospects. «Protection of minority rights are among the most important criteria for joining the European Union,» Karamanlis told a joint news conference with Erdogan. Erdogan, with whom Karamanlis has a close personal relationship, said Ankara was working on a solution for reopening the seminary but also stressed that Athens must do more to protect the «Turkish» minority living in northern Greece. Improving the situation of minorities in both countries «would boost the bridge of friendship between our countries,» Erdogan said. On the issue of Cyprus, Turkey’s premier called for fresh talks but did not respond to the Greek PM’s overture for recognition from Ankara. Erdogan also called for «a period of cooperation and solidarity in the Aegean» but did not make any concrete proposals. There were no disturbances in the Aegean yesterday and the relief was palpable among diplomats in Athens who had feared a possible provocation by Turkish vessels. The Greek coast guard had sought to avert such an eventuality by appealing to Greek fishermen to stay away from the controversial Imia islets to avoid provoking a Turkish reaction. Today Karamanlis is due to meet with Turkish President Abdullah Gul and Ecumenical Patriarch Vartholomaios.