Greek Conservatives Concerned about Price of Better Ties with Turkey

By Louis Economopoulos | July 7, 2008 | 8:07 PM EDT

Athens, Greece ( - Greece's socialist government is moving toward better relations with Turkey in order to help solve the 25-year-old Cyprus dispute, but conservatives are unsure the improving climate will be beneficial to Greece.

They feel the government had failed to effectively tackle the disputes, which brought the two NATO allies close to war three times in the last 25 years.

The southern Mediterranean island of Cyprus has been divided since a 1974 Turkish invasion and occupation of the island's northern third, where only Turkey has recognized a breakaway "Turkish state."

The second round of United Nations-sponsored proximity talks between Cyprus President Glafcos Clerides and Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash will open January 27 in Geneva.

The U.S. is backing these talks as well as efforts by both Greece and Turkey to help find a solution to the Cyprus problem.

U.S. Ambassador to Cyprus Donald Bandler said Monday the U.S. hopes the conclusions of a recent European Union summit in Helsinki - where Greece conditionally dropped its objections to Turkey eventually joining the EU - would advance talks on the resolution of differences in Cyprus and between Greece and Turkey.

Greek Foreign Minister George Papandreou held talks with his Cypriot counterpart Ioannis Kasoulides Monday and later said a new climate was being created as well as new prospects for finding a solution to the Cyprus issue following the Helsinki summit.

Papandreou said the EU's more active involvement - not only in Cyprus' EU accession course but also in seeking a Cyprus settlement - would help boost efforts to resolve the problem.

An improvement in the climate in Greek-Turkish relations would also help the process, Papandreou added. Already this week it was announced that trade between the two countries is projected to reach $2 billion next year compared to $700 million in 1999.

Kasoulides called for vigilance and a firm stance, adding that Cyprus had made it clear that it would not accept anything outside the parameters of U.N. Security Council resolutions on Cyprus.

Constantine Karamanlis, the president of the conservative opposition New Democracy party, said the socialist government had taken a significant shift away from longstanding positions in Greek foreign policy at Helsinki, creating the prospect of danger.

Karamanlis called for a convening of the political party leaders council under the chairmanship of President Kostis Stephanopoulos, and reiterated his proposal for the establishment of a national council on foreign policy.

He said the government had in essence accepted that border differences with Turkey should be resolved via across-the-board political dialogue without conditions being set for respect for international law, international treaties, the lifting of the threat of the use of force and the abandonment of Ankara's unilateral claims.

As such, he warned there was no room for the government to boast and celebrate, but rather room for concern.

Should he become premier, Karamanlis said he would try to re-negotiate the terms of the Helsinki summit's agreement accepting Turkey as a EU candidate-member.

The agreement was not balanced, he said, as "Turkey got what it wanted without conditions and exchanges, while Greece limited itself to an in principle positive statement over the Cyprus issue which, however, also has questionable formulations."

Former conservative Prime Minister Constantine Mitsotakis expressed the view that as long as the Cyprus problem remained an open wound, "we cannot realistically hope for a normalization of Greek-Turkish relations."

"The socialist government shares the responsibility for handing Turkey a ticket to the European Union, making its claims against Greece official and striking its aggressive and expansionist past from the record," wrote George Kyrtsos, editor of the conservative Athens daily Eleftheros Typos.

But George Rallis, another former conservative premier, said the Helsinki agreement was good because Turkey was obliged to accept that Cyprus would join the EU regardless of whether the political problem was resolved. Turkey had also accepted the issue would resort to the International Court at The Hague, which was something it had been refusing to do for 20 years.