PM launches diplomacy offensive

Prime Minister George Papandreou, a seasoned diplomat who has also taken the helm of the new government’s Foreign Ministry, yesterday held talks with his counterparts in Turkey on his first trip abroad since coming to office at the beginning of this week. Papandreou, who was a frequent visitor to Turkey during his stint as foreign minister under the previous PASOK government from 1999 to 2004 and played a significant role in the rapprochement between Greece and Turkey following powerful earthquakes in the two countries in 1999, took the opportunity yesterday to reassure Turkish government officials of Greece’s backing for Ankara’s bid to join the European Union but also stressed that this support is not unconditional. The Greek premier described a meeting with his counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan as «very friendly» and «significant,» noting that the Turkish leader had expressed his intention to work toward solving Greek-Turkish disputes in the Aegean as well as the Cyprus problem. Papandreou, who met his Turkish counterpart in Istanbul on the sidelines of an informal meeting of Balkan ministers, reassured Erdogan that Turkey had Greece’s support but noted that «it must take the steps being demanded by the EU if the accession process is to progress.» Asked by reporters whether Greece would make use of its veto at a scheduled EU summit in December when Turkey’s progress as a candidate state is due for assessment, the Greek premier noted that «all the tools of foreign policy are on the table.» Papandreou also had talks with Turkey’s Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and with Ecumenical Patriarch Vartholomaios, the spiritual leader of the world’s Orthodox Christians, who is based in Istanbul. The Greek premier stressed the «urgent» need for a settlement to the Cyprus problem. «We must free Cyprus of the walls which have no place in the European Union,» Papandreou told reporters, referring to a demarcation line dividing the island’s Turkish and Greek communities. «If we are successful, this will be a sign for the whole world, a sign for peace, said Papandreou who is due to travel to Nicosia on an official trip on October 19.