Turkey and Greece to stand in one front

Greece and Turkey, two long-standing regional rivals, pledged on Tuesday to enter a new period in bilateral relations and announced five new confidence-building measures (CBMs).

Turkey and Greece to stand in one front
One of the CBMs calls for the troops of the two countries to present a united front in the literal sense, with the establishment of a combined unit from the armed forces of each country under a NATO umbrella. Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan and his Greek counterpart Dora Bakoyannis announced the new CBMs at a joint news conference in Athens where the Turkish minister, who is also the country's chief European Union negotiator, paid his first official visit.

"Our basic goal is strengthening existing bridges of friendship and cooperation between the two countries and building new bridges. Both sides have the necessary political will to do so. The five new CBMs are evidence of our joint will," Babacan said, describing the new CBMs as "bringing a new dimension into bilateral relations."

According to the measures announced by Babacan and Bakoyannis, "regular mutual visits between the chiefs of staff of the army, navy and air forces of the two countries as well as between other military commanders will be organized; a combined joint Operation Unit in the framework of NATO with the aim of participating in Peace Support Operations will be created; a combined Land Unit with the aim of participating in NATO Response Force operations will be combined; a combined joint Disaster Relief/Humanitarian Aid Task Force capable to operate in a wide range of missions and areas will be created; and visits between commanders of units serving at the Turkish-Greek border in Thrace will be exchanged."

Bakoyannis noted: "This visit symbolizes an entry into a new period of bilateral relations. In order to construct a future that is more in line with our peoples' wishes, we have to work harder and we need a stronger will and more patience. This [cooperation] will be in line with EU values," adding: "The newly elected governments in both countries, both of which came to power with a majority vote, have to take advantage of this situation in order to improve relations. Now, there is such an opportunity," Bakoyannis added.

Greece and Turkey, two countries which are usually referred to as uneasy NATO allies, have come close to war three times in the past years over disputes concerning territorial rights in the Aegean. With a thaw in relations in the last decade, Ankara and Athens have gradually established some cooperation mechanisms in order to improve relations.

Other than the five newly announced CBMs yesterday, there are currently 19 CBMs between the two countries. Most recently, some of these measures were unveiled in İstanbul in June 2006 by the then-foreign minister, President Abdullah Gül, and Bakoyannis. Those included the establishment of a direct telephone line between the military chiefs of staff of the two countries, the extension by a month of a moratorium on military exercises in the Aegean and mutual visits and regular contacts between the commanders of the two countries' coast guard forces. The two ministers then also finalized an agreement to make a hotline between the operational headquarters of the two countries' air forces, located in Eskişehir, Turkey and Larissa, Greece. The hotline has been operational since July 2006.

"The creation of combined or joint operation units is something which goes beyond the presence of two NATO countries in one operation. This means that the two countries' forces will be integrated let's say by getting trained together and by practicing together," a senior Turkish diplomat, speaking under the customary condition of anonymity, told Today's Zaman yesterday, in an apparent effort to highlight the importance of the new CBMs, particularly the measures foreseeing creation of a combined joint unit and a combined land unit.

The rest of the process involving military cooperation will be conducted between the military officials of the two countries. The same senior diplomat said he expected the process to be finalized in 2008. When the process is finalized, all preparations will be reported to NATO headquarters in order to be certified. "I believe that NATO will appreciate and welcome such initiative by Greece and Turkey at a time when the organization suffers a lack of forces," the diplomat added.

Babacan and Bakoyannis also set an exact date yesterday for a long-delayed visit by Greek Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis to the Turkish capital. Diplomatic sources said the visit is likely to take place in the second half of January next year.

Today's Zaman

Güncelleme Tarihi: 05 Aralık 2007, 15:28