Greek-Turkish relations put on ice

Efforts to improve Greek-Turkish relations appear to have been put on hold. Pre-election periods in Turkey, Greece and Cyprus do not leave much leeway for bold diplomatic initiatives. Attempts to resolve ongoing bilateral disputes and the Cyprus problem have been deferred until next year. The meeting between Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan on the sidelines of a summit of Black Sea nations in Istanbul a couple of weeks ago touched on purely pre-electoral matters. Karamanlis reassured Erdogan of Athens’s preference for Turkey’s neo-Islamist government. The government’s stance does not reveal some ideological link between Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party and Greece’s conservative New Democracy. Virtually all Greece’s political elite prefers to have Erdogan at the helm of the Turkish political leadership than representatives of the post-Kemalist establishment, backed by Turkey’s powerful military. There is the belief that these reformed Islamists are more moderate and willing to show a constructive approach on Cyprus. Although this assessment is not totally unfounded, it is nevertheless somewhat unrealistic, particularly since there has been no hard evidence of such intentions. Further, there can be no doubt that Erdogan’s administration needs the approval of the National Security Council for any initiatives on such sensitive issues. But this is not the only problem. The neo-Islamists are, by and large, nationalists, and as such share the expansionist aspirations of the military establishment. Karamanlis had originally hoped that his friendly personal relationship with Erdogan would help foster a more positive Turkish approach to bilateral ties. But these hopes have not been fulfilled. Nevertheless, Athens continues to support the neo-Islamist government in Ankara. Indeed, during talks with Erdogan in Istanbul, Karamanlis avoided saying anything that might supply political ammunition to the governing party’s rivals. But this discretion was at the expense of Istanbul-based Ecumenical Patriarch Vartholomaios. The patriarch’s appeal to Karamanlis to discuss with Erdogan a decision by a top Turkish court disputing his ecumenical status was not heeded by the Greek premier. Even the extremely discreet and cautious Orthodox leader has grown weary of the obstacles set before him by the Turkish state – behavior which breaches Ankara’s EU-linked obligations. Turkey has not changed its ways, even though it still relies on a Greek and Cypriot «yes» if its accession talks with the EU are to progress. It maintains its expansionist claims in the Aegean and every so often provokes tension. In response, Athens follows a policy of appeasement. Essentially, it is hoping that Ankara will start toeing the EU line on the course toward accession – yet more hopes which remain unfulfilled.

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