Greek, Turk PMs avoid touchy topics

The talks between Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan on the sidelines of a Black Sea Economic Cooperation (BSEC) Organization summit in Istanbul on Monday did not touch on crucial bilateral issues. The meeting simply served the pre-electoral needs of the two premiers. Accordingly, both leaders intentionally left all controversial issues off the agenda of talks. So just under an hour of talks was spent on a mutual briefing and exchange of views. The Greek premier went to the Istanbul summit to extend a helping hand to his Turkish counterpart, who has recently been facing the open hostility of his country’s secular, Kemalist regime. Karamanlis has repeatedly expressed his support for Erdogan and has clearly – albeit indirectly – criticized the subversive activities of the country’s military leadership. Of course the Greek premier has always underlined Ankara’s obligations as a European Union candidate state. Athens had originally hoped that the close personal relationship between the two leaders would lead to tangible improvements, or at least create a more constructive atmosphere in bilateral relations. These hopes have not been fulfilled, although it is worth noting that there have been no instances of extreme tension either. However, this rapprochement should be credited to Greece’s switch in policy in 1999, when Athens first expressed its support for Ankara’s bid to join the EU. But although Karamanlis’s friendship with Erdogan has not yielded the anticipated results, it is clear that the government – as well as the main opposition PASOK – prefers Erdogan’s party to remain in power in Turkey. That is why Karamanlis avoided making any statements in Istanbul that may have put Erdogan in a difficult position by offering ammunition to the Turkish premier’s political rivals. That too is why Karamanlis did not respond to an appeal from the Istanbul-based Ecumenical Patriarch Vartholomaios for help in overcoming Turkish interference in the operation of the Patriarchate. Meanwhile, Ankara has refused to satisfy EU demands relating to the Patriarchate and many other issues, and Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul continues to advertize his country’s expansionist stance in the Aegean. It is of course possible that Karamanlis and Erdogan did indeed exchange views on bilateral relations. But even if they did, no statements would have been made public. Athens’s current diplomatic policy is one of improving – or at least not exacerbating – ties with Ankara by focusing on «low policy» areas such as economic cooperation. As regards thorny political issues, Athens prefers slow progress. Essentially it is hoping that Turkey will adapt its behavior to European specifications.

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