Thursday, May 4, 2000

Greek-Turkish lovefest?

An editorial cartoon after the Egyptian-Israeli peace accord in 1979 showed a harried reporter phoning his editor to declare that wildly cheering Egyptians were waving Israeli flags in the streets of Cairo.

“No, chief,” he adds, “I haven’t been drinking.”

Today, that cartoon reflects the mood of another unlikely diplomatic courtship, as Greece and Turkey declare their intentions to live happily ever after, if only they can solve the Cyprus problem.

Two earthquakes brought them together last year, when each helped the other in relief efforts. Now they insist they are determined to end their ancient rivalry.

“There are new elements, important elements [in the relationship]. It is not just cosmetic,” Greek Foreign Minister George Papandreou told reporters yesterday at the Greek Embassy.

Mr. Papandreou had traveled to Washington from New York where he and Turkish Foreign Minister Ismail Cem on Tuesday received an award from the EastWest Institute for their diplomatic efforts to begin a rapprochement between the two countries.

Mr. Papandreou said a Greek-Turkish fair was held recently in Athens and another one is planned for Istanbul.

“There is truly a blossoming of all kinds of nongovernmental contacts, business executives, journalists, women’s groups. I could go on and on,” he said.

Mr. Papandreou said Greece even wants to help Turkey prepare to join the European Union.

The efforts advanced by Mr. Papandreou and Mr. Cem already have resulted in police cooperation in the fight against illegal drugs, a boom in tourism in both countries and a $150 million joint-venture energy project.

Still, there is Cyprus.

“If we don’t solve the Cyprus problem, the rapprochement could grind to a halt,” he cautioned.

A third round of Cyprus talks is due to begin in New York on May 23. The first two rounds produced no breakthroughs. In fact, the Greek-Cypriot government and the Turkish-Cypriot government are not even meeting face to face. The so-called “proximity talks” are conducted through intermediaries.

Turkish-Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash is insisting that the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, recognized only by Turkey, be treated as a diplomatic equal to the Greek-Cypriot administration, which is the internationally recognized government of Cyprus.

Mr. Papandreou expressed sympathy for Turkish-Cypriots who have “a number of fears” of a reunion with the Greek-Cypriot side. He also repeated the Greek criticism of the 1974 Turkish invasion, which followed a Greek-engineered coup in Cyprus.

“Recognizing the Turkish-Cypriots as an international state would mean recognizing the fruits of an invasion,” he said.

However, he added, he has seen a new spirit among both communities, especially after a well-publicized blood drive that attracted thousands of Greek-Cypriots and Turkish-Cypriots, who were trying to save two leukemia victims, one from each side.

“How can you keep these communities divided by a Berlin Wall?” he asked.

Think-tank wrestling

Eight think tanks from the liberal Brookings Institution to the conservative Heritage Foundation will present a Washington extravaganza tomorrow when they host a forum on trade with China.

With Congress considering giving China permanent normal trading status, the “contending sides in this debate really needed an opportunity to face each other and answer each other’s questions,” the organizers said in a statement yesterday.

The “groups agreed that advocacy can be useful, but it is not enough for the American people,” they added. The organizers promised a balanced debate.

The debate begins at 8:45 a.m. with registration in Room 902 of the Hart Senate Office Building.

The other sponsors are the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the Council on Foreign Relations, the Institute for International Economics, the Nixon Center for Peace and Freedom and the Rand Corp.

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