NEWS

Greece pursues rapprochement with Turkey

The Greek prime minister’s visit to the seat of the «empire» has come and gone, but, as always in such cases, the results will become apparent in future developments. For the moment, his entourage is attempting to reap the political gains, declaring themselves satisfied with the talks with the American leadership. But, in reality, Premier Costas Simitis treated his visit more as a political trial than as a political opportunity to promote national interests. One indication of this came before his departure for the USA, when Simitis said he would not accept pressure from the Americans, apparently marking an end to the time when Greek prime ministers went abroad to have policy dictated to them. This demonstration of national pride was obviously intended for local consumption, but his assertions gave him away. His outburst at the press conference after the talks sounded like an apology. The irony is that from the outset Simitis’s stance betrayed the very fearfulness of which he accuses his critics. This is why his visit, which was primarily an opportunity for Greek diplomacy, does not seem to have been utilized as fully as it should have. Commitment Nobody claims that the Greek side could have extracted an American commitment in favor of Greek positions on Cyprus, the European rapid reaction force and Greek-Turkish relations in general. But it should have emphasized these issues and in a manner that was consonant with the American viewpoint. As his colleagues said, the Greek prime minister attempted to behave like a European leader, and not a Balkan leader asking the world leader for help with problems back home. He consciously downplayed the problems Greece faces from Turkey’s expansionist pressure. Reality is stubborn, however, and it won’t give way just because you dodge it. And that will become clear when Turkish Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit visits Washington in a few days’ time. Messages The Americans did not invite Simitis to Washington in order to argue over politics. They gave him the messages they wanted to. American President George W. Bush said what he had to say to his official guest from Greece, but the suffocating atmosphere that developed was more eloquent than the president’s compliments. Next week Simitis will speak about his visit in Parliament, but nothing new will emerge from the discussion. Opposition leader Costas Karamanlis has adopted a very cautious attitude, not yielding to the temptation to exploit the issue politically. In fact, he avoided providing ammunition from within to those who are orchestrating the sycophantic campaign against the ruling PASOK party on the issue of terrorism. Sources say the ND leader is very cautious concerning the government’s stance on national issues. He sees its foreign policy as one-dimensional, not in terms of orientation, but because it does not always make the most of the country’s potential. In particular, he believes that the government will yield on the issue of the European army. Karamanlis believes the cost would be minor if the issue came up after 2004, following the accession of Cyprus to the European Union and after the question of the continental shelf has been referred to The Hague, according to the provisions of the Helsinki agreement. At this point in time, however, the formula worked out by the Americans, British and Turks is politically unacceptable. He blames Foreign Minister George Papandreou for inaction in recent months when he could have influenced the behind-the-scenes discussions. Government sources do not conceal their concern at the way the issues have developed and the cost of any concession at a time when elections are approaching. They say that Papandreou is keen not to harm his public image at a time when he has an edge in the battle for succession. And so, with the support of Simitis, he will try to reach a compromise which will at least allow him to save face. Both the premier and the foreign minister have focused their policy on Cyprus’s EU accession in 2003. They believe that if this is achieved, it will justify their entire foreign policy. Sources say Athens has advised Cypriot President Glafcos Clerides to be as flexible as possible in the negotiations with Turkish-Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash. The objective is to find a framework for a solution by summer, but if this proves impossible, the Greek-Cypriot side must under no circumstances take the blame for the failure, nor give the Europeans any pretext for breaking their repeated commitment on Cyprus’s accession. Meanwhile, the government will make a systematic effort to maintain Greek-Turkish rapprochement, so as to reduce tension as regards the Aegean and Cyprus. Papandreou’s open-arms policy will continue, though Ankara is increasing the pressure by increasing the number of violations of Aegean air space. The main objective is to force the Turkish establishment to keep up the atmosphere of detente. The question is what rights and interests the government will sacrifice on the altar of this policy. Turkey is slowly emerging from a serious financial crisis that saw the lira lose more than 50 percent of its value against the dollar, inflation soar to close to 70 percent, and more than 1 million people lose their jobs.