NEWS

Deal on Euroforce

European Union members reached agreement at a summit meeting in Brussels yesterday on the European Rapid Reaction Force and gave a mandate to the EU’s foreign policy chief Javier Solana to negotiate with NATO in order to forge a formal pact between the two organizations. The 60,000-strong rapid reaction force needs NATO support for its deployment. Greece had objected to Turkey being given veto power over the deployment of the force. Last night, Greek officials said their goal had been accomplished. Foreign Minister George Papandreou and government spokesman Christos Protopappas said the agreed text guarantees EU autonomy in deciding about the deployment of the force and does not give preferential treatment to any country while guaranteeing everyone’s interests. «We have tried in a skillful manner to find a package acceptable to both (Greece and Turkey),» Papandreou said. Solana said he expects an agreement within two or three weeks, so that part of the European force can take over NATO’s peacekeeping mission in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia by December. Diplomatic sources on the summit sidelines had said that Turkey had given ground over the matter in the past weeks and that they expected Greece to make a move. What that move was was not apparent last night, as the text was not yet made available. Greece and Turkey made reciprocal goodwill gestures yesterday. Prime Minister Costas Simitis last night announced the cancellation of joint army exercises with Cyprus. The joint Nikiforos-Toxotis exercises were to begin on Tuesday and last until the following Sunday. Turkey agreed to cancel its own military exercise, Toros, on the occupied northern part of Cyprus. Cypriot Defense Minister Socrates Hassikos said last night that his government was informed of the cancellation of the joint exercises by Papandreou but added that, for Cyprus to cancel its part of the exercise, Nikiforos, it wanted assurances from the United States, which, he said, brokered the agreement, that Toros would not take place. Although Greece’s Papandreou said that the agreement contributes to the creation of «a climate of trust» between the two long-time rivals, Turkey continues to invade Greek airspace, interfere with civilian aircraft and engage in mock combat with Greek fighters. On Tuesday, Turkish fighters even engaged four French fighters, flying alongside two Greek aircraft, over the Aegean. The EU summit also prepared for the addition of 10 new members, including Cyprus. It reiterated its preference for an agreement between Greek- and Turkish-Cypriots on the reunification of the island before the EU’s Copenhagen summit on December 12-13, which will formally decide on the enlargement. The EU did not give Turkey, an EU aspirant, a firm date for the start of accession negotiations, but said that it «encourages Turkey to pursue its reform process and take further concrete steps» to implement its reform plan. Turkish officials yesterday repeated that if the EU did not provide them with a firm date for negotiations in December they would «rethink» their country’s relationship with the EU. Greece, along with Britain, have been among those pushing for such a date.