Athens, Monday, December 20, 1999
Despite the apparent post-Helsinki detente, it is impossible to rule out the prospect of Ankara once again questioning Greek ownership ïf a string ïf Aegean islets and islands, Foreign Minister George Papandreou told Kathimerini yesterday, but stressed that Athens will not negotiate ïn its sovereign rights. And he argued that, if Ankara fails to accept the jurisdiction - as outlined in the Helsinki EU summit that accepted Turkey as a candidate member - of the International Court of Justice in The Hague, it will find itself in trouble with Brussels. "Accession talks will not be able to proceed," he said. "The only course of action is The Hague."
But Papandreou expressed overall optimism regarding the future of cross Aegean relations in the wake of Greece's acceptance of Turkey's candidacy bid, speaking of the hope that "a new leaf will turn over."
The foreign minister argued that people in Turkey are gradually being wïn over to the idea that good relations with Greece will benefit both countries. And apart from the popular explanation of the spiritual bonding between two nations hit by terrible natural disasters earlier this year, Papandreou advanced the precedent of successful diplomatic cooperation to counter U.S. assertions -during the spring attacks ïn Õugïslaíia - that the war in Kosovo could sñi11 over to engulf the Aegean neighbors. "Up to nïw, certain circles in Ankara had nothing to lose by playing the game of tension. Henceforth, they will face dilemmas," he said.
Last week's violations ïf
Greek air space over the eastern Aegean by Turkish jet formations - which
would appear to give the lie to expectations of a softening in the stance
of Turkey's military establishment - are a trap, Papandreou said, into
which Athens has nï intention of walking. "This will not cancel out an
entire strategy. We will insist ïn a policy ïf rapprochement, which will
provide both countries with signifécant benefits."
And Greece, he added is prepared to "pull the cart of Turkey towards the EU," and is indeed the country best suited to do so - provided Ankara adopts a different approach ïn Cyprus and the Aegean.
“We will pull Turkey’s cart toward the EU”
As long as there is a response from Ankara for another approach to Cyprus and the Aegean, says Greek Foreign Minister George Papandreou
By Stavros Lygeros
Papandreou with his Turkish counterpart, Ismail Cem,
at one of the many meetings that have been held recently.
A few days after the European Union decided at its summit in Helsinki to make Turkey a candidate for accession, Foreign Minister George Papandreou told Kathimerini of the strategic foundation of his policy toward Turkey, his estimates and his expectations regarding the course of Greek-Turkish relations. He made clear that what he is interested in is the gradual movement of Turkey towards Europe. In this context, he revealed that soon he will meet with European Commission President Romano Prodi and the Commission to discuss ways in which Greece can help Turkey incorporate the acquis communautaire. The foreign minister also made it clear that Greece is not going to discuss its sovereign rights with Turkey and that the acceptance of the jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice at The Hague is now something that Turkey cannot avoid.
- Mr Papandreou, an attempt to normalize Greek-Turkish relations is under way, in which you are playing a major part. Similar attempts have taken place in the past, but they were wrecked on the rock of Ankara’s intransigence. What makes you think that, this time, developments will be different?
- Nothing has been determined finally, but new opportunities are opening up, and we must take advantage of them. Steps have been taken which allow us to be optimistic on the chance of turning over a new leaf. After the Ocalan crisis, the war in Kosovo (during which Athens and Ankara worked together to ensure that U.S. predictions of a Greek-Turkish conflict were unfounded) brought us close to each other, and showed that there is no leeway for conflicts in our region.
- This time, diplomatic efforts started off with socalled minor issues.
- Precisely. We do not underestimate major issues -such as Cyprus and the Aegean continental shelf- in the least, but we started with matters where there is a convergence of views. In January, I will go to Turkey along with businessmen and other officials to sign the agreements and boost bilateral contacts. I believe that these agreements are building common interests, which to a certain degree prevent the creation of tensions. Up to now, certain circles in Ankara had nothing to lose by playing the game of tension. Henceforth, they will face dilemmas. The more we move the framework of bilateral relations towards another line of reasoning, the more the positive prospects of cooperation become evident for both countries, a return to tension will become ever harder.
- What do you mean when you speak of common interests?
- Apart from cooperation on a state and business level, there is also the major issue of Turkey’s approximation with the EU. Greece is in favor of this, but wants this approximation to be in everybody’s interest, and especially that of Greek-Turkish relations. This was the point of the negotiations ahead of Helsinki. We averted an approximation between Turkey and the EU which would have been against our interests, or would just have circumvented them. Our efforts also serve the interests of people in Turkey who seek the country’s adoption of European and democratic values.
- Do you believe that Greece’s overtures can cancel out Turkey’s long-standing expansionist claims?
- We hope so, but we did not set out with great ambitions, as was the case at (the 1987 meeting between Andreas Papandreou and Turgut Ozal in Davos, Switzerland). Such an effort would encounter strong resistance, and would also contain many pitfalls. We were greatly facilitated by the mood of solidarity created by the recent earthquakes that struck both countries. The negative stereotypes at the level of common opinion were broken. And those politicians in Turkey who seek a rapprochement were encouraged. Conversely, all those who seek enmity were obliged to fall back.
- Do you feel that the post-Kemalist regime in Turkey is prepared to conform with the European standards of political behavior?
- That is a crucial question which will only be fully answered through events over the next 10-20 years. There is, of course, a tendency towards becoming more European, but points of resistance do exist. Greece, however, is prepared -and is indeed the best fit country- to pull the cart of Turkey towards the EU. Within this framework, I will soon have talks with Romano Prodi and the EU Commission in order to find ways to help Turkey incorporate the acquis communautaire as Foreign Minister Ismail Cem has asked us. Everything will happen, provided there is a response from Ankara. If Ankara does not untie our hands, we will not be able to help. The Turks stand to gain from another approach to Cyprus and the Aegean.
- People in Turkey who believe that it is a strategic priority to join Europe, people who note the need to go beyond Kemalist policies, may perhaps be prepared to accept a change in Turkey’s long-standing strategy. But what about the forces of the establishment?
- This will determine political confrontations in Turkey over the next few years. Part of the establishment seems to have been convinced of the need to become more European, with all that that engenders. Businessmen support this line. For the time being, the military seems to be prepared to do the same but it is unclear how far it is prepared to reach. There are no guarantees, but there is a tendency which other forces support, such as moderate Kurds and the politicians of Islam. These forces need the guarantee of democracy. And also we must not underestimate the role of financial developments.
- In what way do you think these will come to bear?
- Privatizations and the participation of the Turkish economy in the global markets will facilitate liberalization at a political level. All these developments set challenges. If these meet with a positive response, the way will open wide. Cem’s statement on the Kurds (easing restrictions on the Kurdish language), for example, is promising.
- On the other hand, (last week’s) Turkish violations of Greek airspace are not all that promising.
- Obviously, certain people on the other side are trying to impede Greek-Turkish rapprochement. We did not open the gates of heaven, but rather a door to opportunity. The Greek air force, as it should have, intercepted the Turkish jets, but we will not fall into the trap and cancel out an entire strategy. We will insist on a policy of rapprochement, which will provide both countries with significant benefits.
- How will you face up to the possibility of Ankara seeking an a la carte process of becoming more European?
- I cannot rule it out, but I must say that the terms of partnership translate into rights and duties for each candidate member. The European Union mechanism can put up with delays, it can show understanding for certain difficulties encountered by a candidate member, but in the end it does not permit subterfuges.
- Are you not afraid that certain of Greece’s partners who favored a token candidacy for Turkey might seize on Turkey’s unwillingness in order to direct matters towards a special relationship?
- Such a danger does exist, but we can stave it off, for the European Union works to our advantage. I will not try to conceal the fact that, had we not exerted pressure in Helsinki, Turkey would have ended up with a token candidacy. But now, Turkey is obliged to become more European.
- Regarding the Helsinki decision and in particular the section calling for bilateral negotiations before disputes are referred to The Hague, you have been accused of effectively accepting what Ankara always wanted and Athens always rejected: Bilateral negotiations on the Aegean without a specific agenda.
- I think it is possible, but not to be taken for granted that Ankara will bring up again, for example, its unilateral claims on (Greek) islets. As you know, they say that they have no territorial claims on us.
- Minister, you know that even when (the Turks) spoke of gray areas (in Aegean sovereignty) they said they had no territorial claims.
- I agree, but recently Ankara has not been raising this matter. They have not officially withdrawn it, but they do not raise it... Our position is perfectly clear: The only bilateral difference is the delineation of the Aegean continental shelf. Therefore, we will not accept discussion, and, even more so, negotiations on Greek sovereign rights. If Turkey raises such issues, that is the answer it will receive.
- What if Turkey does not acknowledge the jurisdiction of The Hague?
- It will find itself within the sights of the EU, which will ask the candidate member to overcome the problem, for otherwise accession talks will not be able to proceed. And as the problem has not been overcome through bilateral negotiations, the only course of action is The Hague.
- Are you worried by the possibility of pressure on Turkey to acknowledge the jurisdiction of The Hague being accompanied by pressure on Greece to withdraw its reservations on (not discussing at The Hague) matters of national security?
- It is a legitimate reservation, and will not be set aside. You must ask me this again if our relations with Turkey become cloudless, if they reach the level of our relations with Italy, for example.
- Do you believe that (the EU) will accept the entire Republic of Cyprus if the problem of Cyprus is not solved? Might (the EU) arrange the accession of the southern part alone, which is controlled by the Cypriot government?
- We aim to have solved
the Cyprus issue by then. But that does not depend on us alone. In January,
before the second round of (bicommunal) talks in New York starts, I will
visit Nicosia to look into the situation -as it stands after Helsinki and
the first round of talks- with the Cypriot government and political parties...
If there is no solution, the entire Republic of Cyprus will join, as the
Helsinki decision foresees. Greece will accept no other formula.