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, emphasising 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.
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.
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, emphasising 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.”