Cablegate: Greece-Turkey: A Slow Start, but Forward Movement
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O 161359Z FEB 10
FM AMEMBASSY ANKARA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 2134
INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 ANKARA 000252
DEPARTMENT ALSO FOR EUR/SE
E.O. 12958: DECL: 02/15/2020
TAGS: CY GR PREL TU
SUBJECT: GREECE-TURKEY: A SLOW START, BUT FORWARD MOVEMENT
REF: A. ATHENS 41
B. ANKARA 57
C. 09 ANKARA 1637
Classified By: POL Counselor Daniel O'Grady, for reasons: 1.4 (b,d)
1. (C) SUMMARY. Despite the eleven-week delay in Greek PM
Papandreou's reply to PM Erdogan's October 30 overture, the
Turkish MFA indicates that it views the response as positive
and as a sincere attempt "to address our issues." The MFA
envisions a foreign minister-level bilateral meeting,
possibly as soon as February 18, followed by a prime
minister-level meeting no later than June. Both the MFA and
the Greek Embassy concur that Cyprus and the Aegean loom
largest in the bilateral relationship, but the Greek Embassy
also warns that illegal migration has become an "explosive
political issue" in Greece, given the sheer numbers of
illegal migrants intercepted there. On Aegean issues, the
MFA welcomed the "fresh start" to which the Greek side was
apparently agreeing. Greek PM Papandreou is widely admired
in Turkey for his "seismic diplomacy" efforts in the previous
PASOK government. Ankara hopes to make the most of his
return to power. END SUMMARY.
2. (C) The Turkish MFA's Deputy Director for Greece/Cyprus,
Kerim Uras, told us that Ankara for the most part is pleased
with the reply letter from Greece PM Papandreou to Turkish PM
Erdogan. It is "overall a good letter," and "tried to
address our issues," Uras said. The GOT had earlier grumbled
about the significant delay for the response (Erdogan's
letter was sent October 30 (REF C); the Papandreou reply came
in mid-January) but said it recognizes that Athens has its
hands full with its economic crisis, and that Papandreou also
needed to ensure that diverse elements in his government were
on board for his approach to Ankara. Uras suggested that the
Papandreou government had not expected the Erdogan missive,
but emphasized that the GOT had not wanted to catch the
Greeks off guard but simply sought to make a comprehensive
overture early in the Papandreou government's tenure.
3. (C) Uras said the Turkish MFA actually took issue with
several elements in the Papandreou response. For example,
the Greek PM's refusal to refer to "minorities" in Thrace,
and also Papandreou's assertion that the two Cypriot
communities should be left on their own to resolve the Cyprus
Problem, without any outside engagement. Uras said this
approach seems irresponsible, given that Greece has a
significant role as a Guarantor Power, as does Turkey.
4. (C) We met separately with the Turkish MFA's Deputy
Director for Maritime and Aviation Affairs Cagatay Erciyes
(REF B). Erciyes (who gave us a copy of the page of
Papandreou's letter which addressed Aegean issues) said that
the Greek letter agreed to "re-energize" exploratory contacts
which have taken place more than forty times over the past
ten years. Erciyes said that while the letter did not
respond directly to the proposals in Erdogan's letter for new
confidence-building measures and an Aegean "code of conduct,"
the Greek side was "ready to discuss" them.
5. (C) In a separate discussion, the Greek Embassy's acting
DCM, Stavros Venizelos, confirmed that the Papandreou letter
discouraged any outside involvement in Cyprus, but noted that
Greece's posture is more proactive than it might appear, and
that Greece had actually lobbied hard with Christofias to
ensure that the Greek Cypriot leader would agree to an
accelerated schedule of talks leading up to the "TRNC
6. (C) Venizelos declined to give us a copy of the
Papandreou letter, but briefed us on the main themes, in
addition to Cyprus:
-- Aegean: (Erdogan had suggested re-energizing the
exploratory talks and proposed CBMs and a code of conduct.
(REF B)) On the former, Papandreou was receptive, but
suggested a time limit, after which the issues would be
brought to the International Court of Justice. In the
meantime, both sides should refrain from "provocative
statements." Ankara should cease overflights of inhabited
-- Minorities: (Erdogan had pointed to various problems for
the Turkish minority.) Papandreou insisted that Greece is
obliged to respect the human rights of all Greek citizens.
However, this is not a question of reciprocity. He in turn
argued for Ankara's attention toward the Patriachate, Halki
Seminary, and the rights of Greek Orthodox-origin Turkish
citizens in Turkey.
-- Illegal Migration: Papandreou agreed that this is an
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important problem; welcomed the resumption of Turkey-EU talks
on this issue; but urged improved implementation of the
Greece-Turkey 2002 Readmission Protocol.
-- Economic Relations: (Erdogan had proposed allowing one-
or two-day visa-free travel for Turkish citizens engaged in
trade and commerce.) Papandreou noted that an MFA steering
committee is examining this issue, but that Schengen
regulations are inflexible and the EU has already disapproved
of such an arrangement, but that Athens would ask again.
-- High-Level Strategic Cooperation Council: (Erdogan had
proposed an overarching structure, featuring annual meetings
between the two prime ministers together with many of their
ministers.) Papandreou did not reject this proposal but
suggested that a meeting at the FM-level begin to review it.
He also stated that he would invite PM Erdogan to Greece
sometime before June 2010. (Note: The Turkish MFA confirms
that a PM-level meeting is envisioned but said the location
remains unclear. End Note) Papandreou also suggested that
individual ministers on both sides could explore issues such
as energy, investment, culture, environment, transportation,
illegal migration, and organized crime.
7. (C) Venizelos commented that the Aegean and Cyprus remain
the two priority issues in the Greece-Turkey bilateral
relationship, but that illegal migration is close behind.
The latter has become an "explosive political issue" in
Greece, he said, not least because 75 percent of all arrests
in the EU of illegal migrants occur in Greece.
8. (C) COMMENT: PM Papandreou is held in high regard by most
Turkish political elites, who remember fondly the "seismic
diplomacy" era encapsulated by Papandreou's constructive
association with the late Turkish FM Ismail Cem.
Accordingly, Ankara hopes to make the most of Papandreou's
return to power, as another element in it's "zero problems
with neighbors" posture. We learned February 15 that a
Greece-Turkey FM-level meeting might take place as early as
February 18 in Istanbul.
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