PM pushes for closer ties with Turkey

Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis yesterday used the second day of a landmark visit to Ankara to stress the importance of intensifying efforts to resolve longstanding disputes between Greece and Turkey. «We have a lot to gain by moving ahead together. We have even more to lose by following the path of tension and enmity,» Karamanlis said at Ankara’s Bilkent University. The Greek premier had talks with Turkish President Abdullah Gul and visited the tomb of Turkey’s modern founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. Taking advantage of the symbolism of his visit, the first by a Greek premier in nearly half a century, Karamanlis stressed the benefits of looking forward. «Kemal Ataturk and (then Greek leader) Eleftherios Venizelos had the political courage… not to allow the conflicts of the past to become an obstacle to building a better future,» he wrote in the visitors book. Karamanlis reiterated Greece’s support for Turkey’s bid to join the European Union and stressed that Ankara’s compliance with EU standards would help resolve bilateral disputes. «Recourse to the use of threat or use of force is a non-option for European states,» he added. On Cyprus, he said that efforts should resume for a settlement. «The way ahead will be long and difficult but the cost of not moving ahead would be immense,» he said. Later yesterday in Istanbul, Karamanlis met with Ecumenical Patriarch Vartholomaios and discussed the problems of the Greek minority in Turkey. «In the struggle to defend the Patriarchate’s rights we will not waver, we will not back down,» Karamanlis said. «The opening of the Halki Seminary is a top priority for us,» he added, referring to a training college for Orthodox priests shut down by Turkish authorities in the early 1970s. Vartholomaios described the Patriarchate and the Greek community as «a bridge» between the two countries. «We need protection as peaceful citizens who respect the law,» he added. In a related development yesterday, Oguz Celikkol was appointed Turkey’s new ambassador in Athens, replacing Tahsin Burcuoglu. Celikkol was previously a senior diplomat in Turkey’s embassy in Baghdad.