- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 4, 2006

NICOSIA, Cyprus — Greece and Turkey will try to improve their strained relations this week amid considerable skepticism in Athens about Turkish intentions and willingness to compromise.

A high-level meeting was planned after a midair collision of Greek and Turkish F-16 fighter jets May 23 over the Aegean Sea in which a Greek pilot was killed. Diplomatic efforts on both sides prevented wider repercussions from the incident.

However, 10 days later, a Turkish-operated cargo ship collided with a Greek tanker, also in the Aegean, with one Turkish seaman dead and five missing and presumed dead.

“A darkening sky over the Aegean,” read the headline of an editorial in the Athens daily Kathimerini, which said, “Turkey is continuing its military activity over the Aegean irrespective of the promises to be a good neighbor.”

Official Greek statements and comments to the press stressed the divergence of views between the two countries on most issues as Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis prepared to travel to Turkey for talks with Abdullah Gul, her Turkish counterpart. Mrs. Bakoyannis said she hoped for some “trust-building measures,” including a the establishment of a telephone hot line between the nations’ air force commands.

But Greek officials complained that Turkey’s recent behavior was “incompatible with its European Union candidacy” and predicted problems because of Turkey’s attitude on issues considered crucial by Greece. These include Turkey’s refusal to recognize the Greek-Cypriot government and a long-standing dispute over territorial waters in the Aegean, which is sprinkled with Greek islands.

The mood of pessimism contrasts with mutual satisfaction over the successful diplomacy after the May 23 aircraft collision.

At the time, Greek Deputy Foreign Minister Evripides Stylianides said the incident “did not lead to a souring of climate,” and in Turkey, a senior official said, “The two sides have a huge interest in working together.”

The reactions differed after the maritime collision, reflecting the persistent animosity between the two NATO members.

Officials in Athens said they do not think Turkey will make concessions on territorial claims in the Aegean or on the future of divided Cyprus.

Turkey refuses to conform to European Union protocol, which requires it to admit Greek-Cypriot aircraft and ships to its airports and harbors. It does not recognize the Greek-Cypriot government in Nicosia pending a settlement that would guarantee autonomy for the Turkish Cypriots.

According to one foreign assessment, the “Athens-Ankara rapprochement after the Aegean collision was artificial. … Now Greece wants to squeeze concessions from Turkey in exchange for its backing of the Turkish EU candidacy.”


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