- The Washington Times - Friday, March 31, 2000

Bonds forged in the response to earthquakes last year in Athens and Istanbul have helped ease decades of hostility between Turkey and Greece, the mayors of the two cities said during a luncheon in Washington this week.

Mayors Dimitrious Avramopoulos of Athens and Ali Mufit Gurtuna of Istanbul said their countries have taken giant steps toward reconciliation in recent months, in large part because of invigorated relations at the municipal level.

Mr. Avramopoulos said he has been conducting a "diplomacy of the cities" campaign since 1995 in which he has addressed issues ranging from business to culture.

Earlier this week, he and Washington Mayor Anthony A. Williams signed a "protocol of cooperation" that calls for a sharing of information between the two cities.

In an appearance Wednesday sponsored by the Western Policy Center, Mr. Avramopoulos described Mr. Gurtuna as a willing partner and an active participant in city-to-city diplomacy. Looking over at Mr. Gurtuna during the lunch, he said: "We opened a new theater in the relations between our two countries."

The Western Policy Center is a Washington group devoted to a problem-solving approach to Greek-Turkish relations and Balkan issues.

Mr. Avramopoulos, who was elected mayor of Athens in 1994 and re-elected in 1998, said the luncheon reminded him of the 1978 Camp David meeting between Anwar Sadat of Egypt and Shimon Peres of Israel, though "at a lower level."

Long hostile neighbors, Greece and Turkey have made great progress in recent months toward reconciliation. In January, Greek Foreign Minister George Papandreou became the highest-ranking Greek official to make a state visit to Turkey in 38 years. His visit followed the European Union's December 1999 decision to make Turkey an official candidate for EU membership, helping along its decades-long bid for membership.

Mr. Papandreou spearheaded the effort to make Turkey a candidate for membership and in so doing helped elevate Turkey-Greece relations to new-found heights.

"After a long time, we enjoy a very peaceful, a very cooperative atmosphere in our region," Mr. Gurtuna said.

The two mayors have worked closely together since a major earthquake hit Turkey last August. Municipalities in Greece responded by sending humanitarian relief.

When an earthquake hit Athens a month later, the city of Istanbul reciprocated with assistance of its own. Agreements of cooperation were then signed between the two cities.

"This peace started between the two cities and then spread to the countries," Mr. Gurtuna said. "We saw the benefits of those relations and that cooperation."

John Sitilides, executive director of the Western Policy Center, said, "The earthquakes really opened up public support."

Despite the recent successes between the two countries, Greeks and Turks remain deadlocked over the future of Cyprus, which is divided between its Greek and Turkish populations with Turkish troops occupying the northern portion of the island.

Mr. Avramopoulos said this week that Cyprus was the most important issue facing the Aegean neighbors and that Turkey must take the initiative in settling the problem.

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