Fresh attempt at dialogue

A new round of Greek-Turkish talks starts tomorrow in Ankara, in an attempt to tackle the problems caused by Turkey’s expansionist policy in the Aegean region. This time, the context is more pressing and unfavorable than at previous junctures. This is because under Prime Minister Costas Simitis’s rule, Greece has recognized, first, Turkey’s vital interests in the Aegean Sea – under the Greco-Turkish Joint Communique Signed in Madrid by Simitis and Turkish President Suleyman Demirel – and, second, its territorial disputes with Turkey, which were acknowledged at the EU’s Helsinki summit in December 1999. However, the most important problem is that a government which has begun disintegrating and has been publicly exposed due to its unwillingness or inability to tackle serious problems of tangled political and business interests and corruption, is in no position to take decisions on issues of historical significance, such as bilateral disputes with Turkey. Simitis decided to focus on foreign policy issues in 2002 in the wake of his Washington visit last month and his meeting with President George W. Bush, a meeting which centered on Greek-Turkish disputes and the issue of terrorism. During his recent visit to Japan, Simitis talked about expected successes on the terrorism front, a result of the government’s supposedly strong and systematic efforts. But until Greece can show the concrete results demanded by the USA and others, the government will remain open to criticism from Washington – the Olympics being Greece’s most vulnerable spot. As a consequence, foreign policy is the easiest arena for a display of government action. What is more interesting, according to Simitis, is that Foreign Minister Giorgos Papandreou, the architect of Greek-Turkish rapprochement, is not keen on any substantial engagement in a Greek-Turkish dialogue. Papandreou has based the revision of Greek foreign policy toward Turkey on the consensus he eventually secured from all political parties; but his aspirations do not stop there. As a consequence, he is not going to risk insisting on a settlement of Greek-Turkish disputes which could weaken his position vis-a-vis the other aspirants for power inside PASOK, after Simitis decides to retire. Moreover, a more careful examination of the situation shows that changes in the substance of Greek-Turkish relations – that is disputed areas in the Aegean Sea, the idea of referring all disputes to the International Court at The Hague if Ankara accepts the tribunal’s jurisdiction, and the recognition of the existence of Turkish interests in the Aegean Sea – all took place prior to Papandreou’s taking office as foreign minister. The fresh round of talks starting tomorrow is unlikely to yield fruit. The greatest concern is not so much on Greek-Turkish disputes than on the Cyprus problem, where pressures for a solution of the island’s political problem will intensify dramatically; and Greece should by no means consent to a solution that involves recognition of Turkey’s military occupation in exchange for Cyprus’s EU entry – not only because this would be a major defeat but because it would create new instability in Greek-Turkish relations.

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