Direct negotiations

Foreign Minister George Papandreou met yesterday with his Turkish counterpart, Ismail Cem, in Istanbul and the two decided «to work constructively» toward solving the problem of the EU’s nascent defense force, the Athens News Agency reported. But they disagreed over whether the EU had accepted a compromise demanded by Greece amending a deal according to which Ankara would allow the force to use NATO assets as long as Turkey had a say in its operations. Papandreou and Cem met for 70 minutes in «a pleasant climate» on the fringes of a summit of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation Council. Their talks included the Cyprus issue, Turkey’s relationship with Europe, illegal immigration and other issues. At the EU’s summit in Seville last weekend, the EU leaders agreed that the so-called «Ankara text» should be amended to make clear that a NATO member could not attack an EU country and that cooperation with third countries would not undermine EU members’ sovereignty and territorial integrity. Ankara has not agreed to this and negotiations continue. Papandreou said that when Greece takes over the presidency of the EU on July 1, Athens will continue to deal with the defense issue on the basis of the EU’s decisions. Cem said, «There is no European position yet.» To this Papandreou replied: «A specific position has been shaped at the EU and in the (summit’s) conclusions. The discussion will have to continue with the Turkish side on these positions.» Kathimerini’s Brussels correspondent, Constantine Kallergis, reported yesterday that a senior Turkish official appeared to hold out the promise that Ankara would cooperate on a number of issues if it were given a date for the start of EU membership talks. «It is crucial for Turkey that a specific timetable for the start of accession talks should be set within this year,» State Minister Tonca Toskai told a conference in Brussels organized by the Turkish Chamber of Commerce and Industry. «This will create a more positive climate with regard to a rapid improvement in relations between us but also for the solution of certain issues.» He was clearly referring to the Cyprus issue and the EU force. A senior EU official responded that the only way such a date could be set was if Turkey satisfied the «Copenhagen criteria» on democracy and respect for its citizens’ rights. Papandreou will begin briefing opposition party officials today.