- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 15, 2000

Second of two parts.

ATHENS, Greece.
Greece's foreign affairs and defense officials have great hopes its new positive stance on the Turkish quest for European Union membership will foster rapprochement with Turkey.
In this scenario, the longtime rivals across Homer's "wine-dark sea" no longer find themselves alone with their differences, or seeking support from hegemonic powers. Instead, both would be part of a community governed by a system of rules mooting many of the traditional and territorial issues that have bedeviled them.
Greece is a EU member state and not only has withdrawn longstanding opposition to Turkish admission but is offering advice on how best to qualify. Greek Deputy Defense Minister Dimitris Apostolakis said Greece's NATO membership also offers a vital structure of rules fostering better bilateral relations with other NATO members, including Turkey.
The European Union, he said, "has to create a defense and foreign policy, or otherwise is not a political but only an economic union." (To achieve this, however, current rules that allow a single member state to veto military decisions eventually will need changing.) Mr. Apostolakis foresees EU and NATO working together to foster a framework of "security and stability" in the region.
Issues remaining between Greece and Turkey even in this era of mutual aid in earthquake catastrophes and Turkish interdiction of migrants seeking to illegally cross the Greek border include the Aegean Sea and Cyprus.
Mr. Apostolakis said "by withdrawing objection to the approach of Turkey to the European Union, Greece has taken the big step. Turkey needs to stop pressing claims on Greek territories, and stop threatening Greece" in an effort to revise the maritime boundaries of the nations. "Under the Law of the Sea, Greece has the right to territorial claims up to 12 miles from its soil; Greece only claims 6 miles. But Turkey says a Greek claim of 12 miles would constitute a 'casus belli,' " Further, under the Treaty of Lausanne in 1923, Turkey received only those Aegean islands that lie within 3 miles of its mainland. Turkey more recently advanced claims on what Mr. Apostolakis said it calls "a 'gray area' of some rocky, unpopulated islands."
Mr. Apostolakis also said Turkey should agree to allow Cyprus to become "one state, with one identity, guaranteeing the rights of both communities in a bizonal confederation," rather than perpetuate the division of the island into Turkish and Greek sectors. Cyprus is up for independent membership in the EU, with annexation by Greece no longer an objective. Mr. Apostolakis said because of Turkey's strategic location next to Russia and the oil-rich Near East, the U.S. "doesn't press Turkey as much as it should on Cyprus."
The deputy defense minister said while Greece supported the NATO operation in Kosovo, it did so reluctantly and with great misgiving. (Greek newsmen said the Greek people were 85 percent against the operation but respected and supported their country's Socialist government for honoring its commitment to NATO.)
"Greece believed military action should have been avoided and supported the idea that political measures should have been prevailing. [Serbian President Slobodan] Milosevic is a problem. But isolating him will not help bring peace to the area.
"Milosevic has tremendous responsibility for Kosovo," he said, adding that, "Russia should have been more involved in Kosovo, which might make Milosevic more open by providing some guarantees." Mr. Apostolakis also faulted the Rambouillet accord for pressing on Mr. Milosevic a set of demands that would be "unacceptable to any leader of a sovereign state," including the right of NATO to intervene not only in strife-ridden Kosovo but throughout Serbia. Mr. Milosevic's rejection of the demands led to NATO's air war on Serbia.
In summary, one travels a quarter way around the world, and emerges into the bright light of Attica to see a society in rapid transition. The boulevard leading into central Athens from the airport, lined with commercial advertising and white-painted wholesale and retail outlets, resembles an approach to a city in Southern California. Palms and orange trees grace Athens' streets.
The ancient birthplace of democracy begins to resemble its distant and young progeny: It faces the problems and opportunities of modernity, including multiculturalism and mass one-world merchandising. American pizza franchises are quite visible as well as dealerships for American-brand cars and other products.
Political, military and business leaders speak of "detente" and "rapprochement" and ending their long "cold war" with Turkey, in words that evoke a U.S.-style approach to foreign relations. Indeed, following the dust-up over Turkish capture of Kurdish rebel chief Abdullah Ocalan at the Greek Embassy in Kenya, Athens named American-born George Papandreou as foreign minister.
Greece on many levels is a success story. And it seems poised to achieve bigger things. From 1996 through 1999, Greece cut inflation from 8.2 percent to 2.9 percent. Economic growth rose to about 4 percent annually, and the Greek drachma will soon be accepted in the European Monetary Union.
In those last four years, the value of stock market transactions rose sevenfold to 14.5 trillion drachmas. Public debt declined from 112 percent to 103 percent of gross domestic product. Much privatization is under way in the large public sector (now perhaps 45 percent of the economy). However, unemployment still hovers around 10 percent.
An official of the National Bank of Greece reported a vigorous campaign of bank acquisitions in neighboring Balkan states. And OTE, the Hellenic Telecommunications Organization, is similarly expanding its markets northward. Constantine Gerokostopoulos, the Foreign Ministry's director of the Turkish-Greek relations, noted that Turkey "has a very large agricultural potential" as a factor in regional development.
Greece will need to complete its transportation and infrastructure improvements. It also must come to grips with the vexing problem of internal security.
To be fair, Athens appears, if anything, less troubled by ordinary crime than many American cities of comparable size. But worries about terrorism targets can cut tourism and cloud the coming Olympic games, and could spoil Greece's chance to showcase its growing vitality.
One source predicted there would be no problem at the games as Greece will augment its own police with security forces from the U.S. and Israel. Nevertheless, in the long run, Greece needs to recover some of the internal security capabilities it dismantled in disgust after the fall of the 1967-74 military regime but this time with protection of civil rights.
With all these factors in place, and new bilateral ties and initiatives with Turkey (including recent first-time joint military exercises on Greek soil), there is every reason to think Greece is nearing a takeoff point that will produce substantial economic growth and influence for this cradle of Western civilization and its neighbors.


Benjamin P. Tyree is deputy editor of the Commentary pages of The Washington Times. He visited Greece last week under the aegis of the American Journalism Foundation.

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