Athens.- Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou on Friday roundly praised the significance of the two-day visit of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and a substantial Turkish delegation to Athens, emphasizing the historic nature of the talks held in the Greek capital between the two country’s leaderships.
Speaking during a press conference at a downtown Athens hotel after the conclusion of an unprecedented Greece-Turkey High-Level Strategic Cooperation Council, Papandreou said the signing of numerous bilateral agreements and memoranda constituted a landmark event.
Papandreou said he ascertained volition and courage on the part of the Turkish side to take initiatives and to discuss issues that Ankara once considered as “solved”. Amongst such issues, Papandreou cited the long-standing Cyprus problem. (ANA-MPA)
In recalling the 1999 “earthquake” rapprochement between the two countries, Papandreou said the period witnessed the commencement of “diplomacy amongst citizens”.
Along these lines, the Greek premier said both countries have a duty to seek out cooperation aimed at an absolute normalisation of relations “through respect of the principles of international law and good-neighbourliness”.
The Greek prime minister noted that in contacts held throughout the day, new ways to effectively promote bilateral cooperation was discussed. (ANA-MPA)
Papandreou referred directly to the issue of the Aegean’s continental shelf delineation, stating that five new confidence building measures were agreed upon. The taking of joint initiatives was also decided at international and regional level, while the Greek prime minister praised the decision to create a bilateral supreme cooperation council, expressing a hope that it will be the main vehicle to promote understanding between the two sides on low-intensity issues which, as he said, are nevertheless of great importance.
Papandreou said these issues concern bilateral political relations, citizens’ protection, education, economic and trade relations, energy, the environment, culture, tourism, transports and communication and, lastly, European affairs.
It was also agreed that twice a year meetings will be held at the foreign ministers’ level and once at the prime ministers’ level. Papandreou said that through such cooperation tangible results may soon arise in many sectors.
Referring to the thorny issue of Cyprus, Papandreou requested the contribution of the Turkish side for a fair and viable solution to the problem within the framework of UN resolutions, and with respect for the principles and values of the European Union. He added that with a correct solution to the issue of Cyprus there shall be a better approach between the two countries. (ANA-MPA)
Papandreou further referred to a common future, the friendship and the cooperation that must exist in the two countries’ relations, one which will lead to the settlement of every problem in a peaceful and just way, while also referring to the support provided by Greece for Turkey’s effort to join the EU. He pointed out that the main elements of Turkey’s course towards the EU are respect for international law, human rights and freedoms, as well as respect for the rules of good neighbourliness.
On the question of tourist visas for Turkish citizens, echoing a standing demand by the Turkish side, Papandreou referred to an initiative by Athens towards its Schengen pact partners on the issue, adding that Greece will also examine the possibility of visa-less one-day excursions from the opposite Turkey coast to Greek islands, either by Turkish nationals or citizens of other European countries visiting Turkey.
Responding to a relevant question, the Greek premier underlined that a federal solution should be found for the Cyprus issue, a solution which would not need “our guarantees, which at the end, instead of uniting the two communities on the island republic, merely divided them.”
Referring to issues of religious and minority rights, Papandreou underlined that “we must all respect the principles and internal functions of each religion.” Regarding the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Istanbul, Papandreou said it was not a bilateral issue between Greece and Turkey, emphasizing that issues dealing with Greek citizens of the Muslim faith in western Thrace are also not a bilateral issue.
“For Orthodox Christians, the Ecumenical Patriarchate is not just a mere parish but the centre of Orthodoxy,” the Greek prime minister stressed, noting that it would be to Turkey’s benefit to highlight the religious liberties vis-à-vis the Patriarchate.
In response to press questions over repeated violations of the Greek airspace and infringements of the Athens FIR by Turkish warplanes, Papandreou said “we should leave the past behind us and pass to the future,” adding that rules of good neighbourly relations mandate that flight plans should be filed with Greek civil aviation authorities by the Turkish air force. “If this happens then no interceptions by the Hellenic Air force would be necessary.”
In conclusion, Papandreou paid homage to the “proud, hard working and hospitable Turkish people.”
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan held a particularly frank tete-a-tete briefing with Greek media editors on Saturday morning, repeatedly answering questions about airspace violations in the Aegean — a sensitive point for Athens — and even curtly responding to queries over the military’s role in Turkey.
In fielding the overflight questions during a morning press conference, Erdogan first called on media representatives not to ignore the positive aspects of Greek-Turkish relations and to not operate as a mere “radar”, simply reproducing reports regarding airspace violation stories.
“In the seven and half years that I am prime minister I have not bombed anyone. If you (the press) aren’t calm, how will you correctly report the messages, so that there is peace in our region?” he asked, before turning to the issue of the overflights themselves.
In touching on the previous day’s proposal by Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou, namely, submission of prior flight plans by Turkish authorities for whatever flights of warplanes, Erdogan said he would examine the proposal.
“We, the two countries, are not in a state of war. Until now we operated via the NATO station, which transmits information about our flights to both sides. I cannot see why, however, we can’t brief each other about our flights, simultaneously with (briefing) towards NATO,” he added.
Moreover, he repeated Ankara’s position that Turkish warplanes fly – in such Aegean overflights — unarmed, in contrast with Greek fighter planes, as he said.
“If we remove this difference, we will have made a step towards peace.”
Athens has long chaffed at what it calls a systematic infringement of Athens FIR regulations by Turkish warplanes, flights that often result in violations of Greek airspace and even overflights of populated islands. Greek officials have also warned of the danger of mid-air interceptions leading to accidents, which have occurred in the past.
Asked about the role of the military in the neighbouring country’s political system, Erdogan dismissed criticism by pointing to the swift developments following the uncovering of the “Sledgehammer” affair, while stressing that “democracy must develop in parallel with the economy. I have been premier for seven and a half years and no one has pressured me.”
Turning back to specific Greek-Turkish relations, Erdogan repeated that the Aegean should become a sea of peace, “there are fears by both sides, and they will be overcome, though. Give us and our associates a little time.”
Along those lines, he mentioned that Ankara has proposed linking its power grid with Greek islands, a proposal he said has been met with suspicion.
“We do have any designs against your country. We are a large country and we have a great deal of land to exploit,” he said, while noting that he earlier met at the hotel with three ethnic Greeks from Istanbul.
“Unfortunately, because of certain events, which they did not desire, they left Turkey to live here (Greece). I told them to return, if they want; we will activate the bureaucratic procedures so that this is possible.”
Asked about the still unresolved Cyprus issue, the influential Turkish head of government responded that the new Turkish Cypriot leader, Dervis Eroglu, has a different stance than the latter’s predecessor, Mehmet Ali Talat, “however, we, as guarantor powers, must facilitate the (negotiations) process”.
Referring to the issue of closely watched defence spending, Erdogan said that when he came to power defence was in first place in terms of budget spending, whereas education now takes its place, following by spending on health, leaving defence as number four or five, as he said.
Asked about the Kurdish question, the Turkish PM cited what he steps aimed at democratisation being promoted by his government, stressing, in fact, that his ruling party has 60 Kurdish MPs.
The signing of the Olympic Truce initiative by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan concluded a landmark two-day visit by the Turkish leader to Athens.
Appearing at a brief ceremony in front of the imposing Panathinaiko Stadium in central Athens — the venue for the first modern Olympic Games of 1896 — with his counterpart, George Papandreou, Erdogan referred to the “great honor in signing my name to this book; to put my signature for a world of peace”.
Papandreou, a major proponent of the Olympic Truce concept since his tenure as foreign minister ahead of the 2004 Athens Games, emphasised the importance of Turkey’s support for the idea, which sends out a clear message “by Turkey and Greece to the world”.
Moreover, Papandreou said Greece will actively support a bid by Istanbul to host the 2020 Olympic Games.
“We are particularly pleased that Greece has expressed its support, and will extend its know-how (in case Istanbul hosts the Games),” Erdogan added.
Earlier, the two leaders had a private lunch with their spouses at the central Athens hotel where the Erdogan couple stayed.