Dealing with Turkey

Although Premier Costas Simitis lost the publicity battle in the parliamentary debate on the economy last week, he did buy some time (until month’s end) to deal with his pet European issues. Greece’s primary foreign policy concern is its relations with Turkey, which has not been lured by the prospect of EU accession into reviewing its attitude regarding Greece and Cyprus – as proved by the repeated violations of Greek air space and Ankara’s refusal to accept the UN blueprint for Cyprus’s reunification, a plan which comes closer to satisfying Turkey’s rather than Greece’s positions. EU and US criticism of Turkey is of no comfort to Greece. Moreover, Ankara’s European dilemma is causing tension and nervousness in Greece. Government officials think that by the end of 2004, when the EU is due to decide on a date to begin membership talks for Ankara, tension with Turkey will have escalated further. The EU’s inaction during the Imia crisis of 1996 demonstrates that we will have to deal with any Turkish provocation on our own; this also means Greece’s armed forces need a radical overhaul. On the diplomatic level, Greece should do everything it can to encourage Turkey’s European orientation. Nevertheless, neither Europe nor Greece can bring about large-scale changes in Turkey, which remains a deeply conservative country with many problems while remaining keenly aware of its international leverage. Greece must also stay firm on the Cyprus issue, as the creative ambiguity of some recent Commission regulations concerning the export of Turkish-Cypriot products could open the door to indirect recognition of the breakaway state.

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