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Greek FM speaks about Turkey's obligations towards the EU as she travels to the US
2006-03-22 12:21:17

Athens, Mar 22, AP - The Greek foreign minister called Turkey's commitment to declare war if Greece attempts to extend its territorial waters in the Aegean Sea “anachronistic” and expressed hope that Turkey's European Union aspirations would result in a reversal of this policy.

In an interview with the Associated Press Dora Bakoyannis also said the Turkish government should allow the reopening of a theological seminary, closed since 1971.

“The final European course of Turkey will be judged by Turkey itself. Turkey has assumed some obligations, and these obligations must be implemented,” Bakoyannis said in the interview.

“All countries adjusted their laws, accepted European standards so they could join the EU. Turkey must also do this. There is no Europe a la carte for any country, and not for Turkey.”

The newly appointed foreign minister, who is due to have talks with top U.S. administration officials, possibly including President George W. Bush, said a Turkish media report that indicated Turkey would declare war if Greece extended its territorial waters from six to 12 nautical miles from the coast was an “anachronism.”

Mass circulation daily Hürriyet reported on Monday that a classified Turkish foreign policy document, which it said had been approved by the Cabinet a few months ago, said Greece cannot increase its territorial waters to 12 nautical miles and that Turkey must maintain its deterrence in the face of such a threat. The report could not be independently verified.

“I think this is an anachronism,” Bakoyannis said. “Turkey at times is reported in the media as bringing back this position. This position is against the law of the sea and it is an issue that concerns the European Union. I have many times said that these types of declarations don't help Turkey come closer to Europe, which it has said is its main goal.”

Greece says that international law allows it to extend its waters if it wants, while Turkey has argued that such a move would turn the Aegean into a Greek lake.

The two NATO allies have a number of long-standing disputes in the Aegean, including territorial waters, airspace and seabed mineral rights. They have made little headway in resolving any of the problems, which nearly led to war three times, most recently 10 years ago over a disputed Aegean islet.

Relations thawed in 1999 and Greece became Turkey's leading EU sponsor.

“It was not an easy decision to promote and support the European course of Turkey,” Bakoyannis said.

She said some progress had been made on restarting talks to unify Cyprus after the rejection by Greek Cypriots two years ago in a referendum of a U.N.-sponsored peace plan. She said recent talks between Greek Cypriot leader Tassos Papadopoulos and U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan “again put forward discussions for the promotion of a viable solution on Cyprus.”

Orthodox seminary:

One of Turkey's more important obligations, Bakoyannis added, was to respect human rights and religious freedom. She said it could start by reopening the Halki seminary located on an island off Istanbul that has for generations trained the Istanbul-based Greek Orthodox Patriarchate's priests.

“The issue of the Patriarchate has to do with religious freedom inside Turkey. The existence of the Patriarchate in the long run is dependent on the function of the theological school at Halki,” she said. “It is not by chance that all countries in Europe and United States are urging Turkey to change its policies on the theological school at Halki and let it function like it did before 1971.”

Turkey has been under pressure from the United States and the EU to reopen the seminary, closed in 1971 under a law that put religious education under state control. The issue of Patriarch Bartolomeos' status is also a matter of controversy, as Turkey sees him as religious leader of Turkey's Greek Orthodox minority and rejects the “ecumenical” title for him.

“I believe that if Turkey opens the Halki school it will send a very important, symbolic message to the entire world, that an Islamic government like that of Mr. Recep Tayyip Erdo?an respects human and religious freedoms,” Bakoyannis said. “I have said this many times to my Turkish interlocutors, and I admit I am very saddened that no action has been taken in this direction.”

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