A new face, maybe
A positive climate prevailed during the meeting yesterday between Greek Prime Minister Costas Simitis and Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the leader of Turkey’s poll-winning party. The Justice and Development Party leader put on a completely different face from the one Greeks have been used to until now. «We must no longer see Greece as a rival… My party’s plans and political program is openly in favor of developing Greek-Turkish relations and I commit myself to fulfilling this promise,» Erdogan said. «If Turkey joins the EU, I can say I have a vision of those days when we will have solved all the important problems between us. I dream of a peaceful coexistence in the broader region that will enjoy the fruits of peace,» he added. There is no question that these are encouraging views, which underscore the will to make a radical break with the past. It remains to be seen whether the Turkish leader actually means what he says and whether the internal power balance in Ankara will allow him to make good on his pledges. The second factor should not be underestimated. It has already had a decisive effect on Ankara’s stance toward the UN plan on the reunification of Cyprus. «There is not enough time between now and December 12 to find a solution,» Erdogan pointed out. If Turkey does not give an answer before the Copenhagen summit and sticks to this position, the complications will become evident three weeks from now. Turkey is set for a fierce tug of war, as has already been seen, when Erdogan was forced to withdraw on several points. It was reflected in the fact that Turkish diplomats and technocrats were left out of the meeting between Simitis and Erdogan, which was only attended by Greek Foreign Minister George Papandreou and his new Turkish counterpart Yasar Yakis. Furthermore, it was echoed in Erdogan’s remarks when he said that all negotiations on Cyprus will take place under the auspices of Abdullah Gul, Turkey’s new prime minister, and the government under him. The battle between Turkey’s pro-European forces and the conservative establishment will be decided by internal factors. Greece, of course, will try to exploit the fact that both the AK party and the Turkish opposition are pro-Europe. It’s no coincidence that Erdogan chose Athens to present the other face of Turkey. The Greek government has to respond to this gesture without premature enthusiasm or delusions.