- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 2, 2001

NICOSIA, Cyprus — Western diplomats report a growing role for the Turkish military in that countrys politics and voice concern about the extent of the Greek reaction.
The stakes involve the future of Turkeys economy, heavily dependent on international loans, as well as Turkeys application for membership in the European Union (EU).
Greece, a vocal member of the European Union, has been perturbed by the recent guidelines to the Turkish armed forces and uncompromising statements on the problem of divided Cyprus, where Turkey maintains an expeditionary force of some 35,000.
Diplomatic assessments of the Turkish militarys role have been focusing on Turkeys recent cuts in arms purchases, which followed a similar but more controversial move by Greece.
The cuts announced by both countries were based on purely economic factors and have not diminished the Turkish armys role as "the ultimate decider" and a force capable of blocking political moves that the military regards as harmful, one diplomat said.
The army has been particularly active in containing the activities of Islamic fundamentalists. As the threat grows, so does the armys influence in containing it, diplomats say.
One favorable analysis compared the situation in Turkey to a bus driven by politicians. "When the reckless driver starts weaving, the army acts as the road barrier," it said.
Last week, officials of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank confirmed the near completion of a $10 million "rescue" package for Turkey.
In statements concerning Turkeys application for EU membership, Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit has been stressing Turkeys costly security role in the Eastern Mediterranean, the Balkans, Caucasus and Central Asia.
"We carried a heavy burden," Mr. Ecevit said. "We could not have been struggling with the economic problems that we facing now if we had not had to bear those financial burdens."
Although the announcement of an arms cut early in April tended to reduce the tension between Greece and Turkey, more recent analyses and statements are much more cautious.
Last week, Akis Tsohatzopoulos, the outspoken and often controversial Greek defense minister, charged that despite the easing of tension, Turkeys "expansionist policy against Greece has not altered in the least."
Mr. Tsohatzopoulos quoted official directives from the Turkish general staff for the current year, reiterating the long-standing demands for an adjustment of territorial waters and the Aegean Sea shelf that would bring some Greek islands under Turkish control.
Thus, he concluded in a statement, "it is impossible for us to improve our relations further."
Referring to the official announcement on the Greek cuts in arms purchases worth $6.8 billion, Mr. Tsohatzopoulos insisted the acquisition of new weapons would go ahead but that payments would be rescheduled.
The government of Prime Minister Costas Simitis needs the money saved on weapons to finance the 2004 Athens Olympics, as well as prop up the shaky social security system and improve the educational system.
In the Turkish capital of Ankara, Gen. Huseyin Kivrikoglu, head of Turkeys Joint Chiefs of Staff, said there had been "developments" in confidence-building measures between Greece and Turkey but that "they could be expanded."
But the Greek government and media are concerned by the publication by the Turkish Defense Ministry of "the White Book 2000," criticized by Mr. Tsohatzopoulos and described by the influential Athens daily Kathimerini as challenging "Greeces national and sovereign rights."
The newspaper concluded that the recent developments "once again prove that Turkey is a far cry from democratic ideals, as these are understood and safeguarded in Europe."


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