A timely cancellation

The decision by Greek Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis to cancel his visit to Ankara may displease his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan, but in light of current circumstances it appears to be the wisest decision. Turkey is not just another state on the Greek border. Bilateral ties with Greece’s eastern neighbor is the hot potato in the hands of foreign policy makers, and as a result each move must be carefully thought out. Karamanlis would not simply travel to Ankara for a formality or to invigorate bilateral ties. The objective must be to strengthen the relationship. A visit, therefore, makes no sense without the necessary preparations to guarantee such progress – and, regrettably, in this case the preparations have not been made. On the contrary, everything seems to suggest that Ankara is firmly entrenched in its positions. Turkish posturing in recent weeks has prompted second thoughts among officials in Athens. After all, there is the negative precedent with Foreign Minister Petros Molyviatis, whose visit to Ankara was shadowed by a standoff at the Imia islets and repeated violations of Greece’s air space by enemy fighter jets. Provoking tension during high-level meetings is standard policy of Ankara’s establishment. These tactics work as a strong reminder of its expansionist claims and, at the same time, as a test of Athens’s political reflexes. There is little doubt that the two power poles in Turkey are engaged in an underlying tug of war. On the other hand, a process of osmosis is at work, at least as far as Greek-Turkish relations are concerned. In practice, this means that Karamanlis must be extra cautious – particularly after his counterpart failed to meet his promise to reopen the religious seminary on the island of Halki. As things are now, Athens can only count on the progress in Turkey’s EU membership negotiations. Those talks will give Greece an opportunity to raise a set of issues that feature high on the Greek agenda. That will be a test of Turkey’s willingness to adopt to the EU’s acquis communautaire – and more specifically, to keep good-neighborly relations with an EU member state.

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