- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 28, 2000

Greek-Turkish showcase

Relations between historically hostile neighbors Greece and Turkey continue to improve, and this week in Washington could help showcase the new detente.

Dimitris Avramopoulos, mayor of Athens, and Ali Mufit Gurduna, mayor of Istanbul, are here on separate visits but have a meeting scheduled tomorrow.

Turkish business executives here for the Annual Conference on U.S.-Turkish Relations have a news conference scheduled today to discuss the improved climate with Greece among other issues.

The Greek Embassy continues expressing hope for a new era of friendship with Turkey.

Even in Cyprus, ordinary Greek-Cypriots and Turkish-Cypriots are exchanging kind words and deeds, although official relations remain strained between the internationally recognized Cypriot government and the Turkish-Cypriot administration recognized only by Turkey.

The Cyprus News Agency yesterday wrote about the outpouring of generosity from Turkish-Cypriots who have given blood in an attempt to find a bone-marrow donor for a 6-year-old Greek-Cypriot boy.

Government spokesman Michalis Papapetrou said the Turkish-Cypriots who joined Greek-Cypriots in the blood drive show "a new dynamic is being created at the level of simple citizens."

In Washington, the Greek Embassy, in its latest newsletter, remarked on the "improved climate of relations between Greece and Turkey."

"In recent weeks, there have been many examples of the warming" trend, the embassy said.

It cited efforts to create a Greek-Turkish chamber of commerce, plans for a new Greek Embassy in Turkey and the expansion of the Turkish Embassy in Greece and the inauguration of Turkish Airline flights between Istanbul and Thessaloniki, Greece.

Baki Ilkin, the Turkish ambassador to the United States, said relations have been improving since last year's earthquakes that hit both countries and each offered the other humanitarian assistance.

He also said Greece's decision to support Turkey's candidacy to the European Union helped create a new climate of cooperation.

"I was born an optimist," Mr. Ilkin told Embassy Row yesterday, as he discussed his hopes for better relations with Greece.

"The earthquakes had a silver lining," he said. "The tragedy brought both countries closer together."

Mr. Ilkin said Greece and Turkey have decided to cooperate on a wide range of problems that he described as "noncontentious" and leave the most divisive issues for later negotiations.

He cited talks on tourism, trade, anti-terrorism and drug smuggling as areas of progress.

"I'm not saying we have solved all our problems," he added. "But I hope we are moving in the right direction."

Promoting Cypriot talks

U.S. Ambassador to Cyprus Donald Bandler yesterday called on ethnic Greeks and Turks to hold more substantive discussions when they meet in a third round of scheduled "proximity" talks in May.

"The United States wants the talks to be on all the core issues and to be looking at all of them together, to have a meaningful negotiation," he told reporters after meeting Cypriot President Glafcos Clerides.

Mr. Clerides and Turkish-Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash have held two rounds of talks through intermediaries in New York and Geneva. A third round is scheduled May 23 back in New York.

Mr. Denktash insists on being treated as a diplomatic equal to Mr. Clerides, even though the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus is recognized only by Turkey. He also rejects the United Nations formula for reunification on the basis of a strong central government. Mr. Denktash supports a looser confederation with more autonomy for Turkish-Cypriots.

Mr. Bandler said the proximity talks are the right format for now.

"Eventually, there will have to be direct exchanges and signatures on the dotted line with the direct involvement of the leaders," he said.

The core issues include security for both communities, a settlement of property claims from the mass relocation of Greek-Cypriots and Turkish-Cypriots, territorial definitions and constitutional guarantees for both sides.

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