Greek PM Puts off Turkey Visit Ahead of EU Talks

ATHENS (Reuters)–Greek Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis postponed this month’s trip to Turkey on August 3 as pressure grew for Ankara to recognize Cyprus before starting EU accession talks in October–an official at the prime minister’s office said.

Greek officials said that the trip–which would have been the first by a Greek premier to Turkey in more than 46 years–will take place at a later date but did not say why it was postponed.

"The prime minister will visit Ankara later in the autumn," the official told Reuters. "The date has not yet been determined."

Diplomats said the trip–announced during a meeting of the two leaders on a Greece-Turkey border post last month–was too close to October 3–when Turkey is expected to start European Union accession talks.

"Let’s just say a visit after October 3 would be more comfortable. After that date–the visit will be less complicated," a diplomatic source told Reuters. "The two sides could not agree now on the date and the agenda of the meeting."

The diplomat added that the decision to postpone the trip was taken in late July before Turkey signed a key EU protocol with new member states of the bloc–including Cyprus–but which Ankara refused to recognize.

While ties between the former arch-rivals have greatly improved in the past six years–they remain divided over the island of Cyprus–split along ethnic lines for over 30 years.

Turkey signed a protocol on July 29 extending its customs union to new EU members including Cyprus–clearing the last official obstacle to the start of EU entry talks.

However–the country also issued a declaration making clear the signing did not mean official recognition of Cyprus–whose Greek Cypriot government is viewed in Brussels as the sole legitimate authority. The government has no diplomatic ties to Turkey–which invaded the northern third of the island in 1974.

"This move certainly did not facilitate the visit," the diplomatic source said.

Athens–which is a strong supporter of Turkey’s bid for EU membership–has called on Ankara to "lift this paradox" of not recognizing a member of a club it wishes to join–while other EU members including Austria and France want full recognition of Cyprus before the start of accession talks.

"It doesn’t seem conceivable to me that a negotiation process of whatever kind can start with a country that does not recognize every member state of the EU–in other words all 25 of them," French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin said yesterday.


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