ATHENS.- ANA – Greece and Turkey on Friday took yet another step forward in their burgeoning rapprochement, with the prime ministers of the two neighboring countries expressing their satisfaction — during a joint press conference in Athens — with the level of bilateral cooperation, agreements and overall contacts.
”We ascertained, with satisfaction, the progress made in Greek-Turkish relations,? Karamanlis told reporters after the meeting, adding that EU-Turkish relations and the various stages of Ankara’s harmonization with the Union’s acquis communautaire were discussed.
”We confirmed our coincidence of views with respect to the new ‘orbit’ into which Greek-Turkish relations have entered and ascertained with satisfaction the progress they ae making. Both Mr. Erdogan and I reaffirmed our political volition to further strengthen the cooperation between the two countries in all sectors and to take the maximum possible advantage of the existing positive momentum,” Karamanlis said.
He stressed that, from within that momentum, businessmen of the two countries would exchange, later in the day, useful views on further reinforcing their contacts, adding that ”there was convergence in the assessment that the process of rapprochement between the two countries is evolving positively, and we agreed to investigate the possibilities if deepening it”.
Karamanlis further reaffirmed his own and the Greek government’s support for Turkey’s EU prospects and the reform efforts being advanced by Erdogan in Turkey, noting that the talks focused mainly on Turkey’s rapprochement with the EU and the stages of its adaptation to the acquis communautaire (the EU body of law).
As regarded the delimitation of the Aegean continental shelf, Karamanlis said that the exploratory talks on that issue would continue, assessing, however, that they would not be completed in the near future, but at the same time noting that the political volition existed to seek a solution.
Greece and Turkey in May 2002 commenced ”exploratory talks” aimed at ascertaining ?points of convergence? that will ostensibly lead to dialogue at a later stage for the drafting of an agreement referring the delimitation of the Aegean’s continental shelf to the International Court at The Hague. The talks are held on a rotating basis in the two capitals, and the 24th round of the talks took place last month.
Questioned on the long-standing problem of Cyprus, which became a full EU member on May 1 despite the continuing division of the island republic, Karamanlis said that ?beyond the (recent referendum) results, the goal remains for the reunification of the island, so that both Greek and Turkish Cypriots enjoy the benefits of (EU) membership”.
Asked about the issue of ”recognition” of the Turkish Cypriot pseudo-state (unilaterally proclaimed and recognised only by Turkey) put forward by Ankara, Karamanlis said that the matter had been resolved by the European Union with the accession of the entire island into the EU and a special regime for the (Turkish-occupied) northern sector.
Karamanlis also expressed satisfaction with the decision of the (internationally-recognised) Republic of Cyprus to take steps to reinforce the Turkish Cypriots, mainly economically, reiterating that Athens’ goal was the reunification of the island.
Erdogan, in turn, said that progress in bilateral relations continues unabated, pointing to 25 agreements signed over the past five years and to the volition of the political leadership in both countries – as well as by the Greek and Turkish peoples – for continuing improvement.
“Let the past remain in the past,” Erdogan said in reply to a press question referring to the 1996 Imia incident, when the two countries and erstwhile rivals almost came to blows over a rocky outcrop in the eastern Aegean. He said that ”we do not want the next generations to live as we have lived”, adding that ”peace and love are deeply consolidated in the sentiments of the two peoples”.
As far as two other bilateral ‘thorns’, namely the issue of Turkish authorities allowing the reopening of the Halki Theological School on the eponymous isle in the Sea of Marmara and a past threat by Turkey’s legislature to authorize military action in the event Athens proceeded with an extention of its territorial waters to 12 nautical miles from the present 6, a right consolidated under international treaties, Erdogan merely said discussions were taking place.
On the Halki seminary, Erdogan said that the issue was on the ”Agenda of discussions”, noting that the political volition existed on both sides to resolve the matter, and adding that ”it may be resolved speedily”.
Regarding the ”causus belli” Ankara has cited in the event of extension of Greece’s territorial waters, Erdogan said that technocrats of the two countries were looking to final an appropriate solution, noting that there were issues from the past which have been carried over into the present.
Immediately afterwards, Erdogan was received by President of the Republic Costis Stephanopoulos.
Greeting Erdogan, the President said his visit here was “very important” and “provides an opportunity for further advancing our relations”, adding that the Turkish premier’s personal friendship with Karamanlis “facilitates the discussions”.
Erdogan thanked Stephanopoulos for his reception and conveyed greetings from the Turkish President.
Visiting Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan later placed a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier outside parliament in central Athens, then met with parliament president Anna Psarouda-Benaki, with whom he discussed relations and cooperation between the two countries’ parliaments.
After their 15-minute meeting, Erdogan said he had discussed with his Greek counterpart and his associates for the better course and development of Greek-Turkish relations, and “my visit to parliament and meeting with its president aims at further development of the relations between our two parliaments”.
Erdogan also conveyed to Psarouda-Benaki an invitation from the president of the Turkish parliament.
Benaki, in turn, described her talks with Erdogan and “cordial”, noting that they had exchanges “our good sentiments and desire for progress in our bilateral relations”.
She said emphasis was placed on the need to strengthen the ties between the two parliaments and parliamentary assemblies, adding that she has accepted her Turkish counterpart’s invitation. She said no date was set as yet, but added that they have already had contacts in international organisations and will examine the matter of closer cooperation between the two parliaments.