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Turkish, Greek ties warming

January 24, 2008|From the Associated Press

ANKARA, TURKEY — Costas Karamanlis on Wednesday became the first Greek prime minister to pay an official visit to Turkey in nearly 50 years, reflecting warmer ties between two countries that have come close to war three times in three decades.

Karamanlis and his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, spoke of their determination to work toward resolving long-standing disputes, including the divided island of Cyprus as well as airspace and sea boundaries in the Aegean Sea. But there was no concrete agreement on how to proceed.

"It is time to turn a new page," Karamanlis said at a news conference with Erdogan.

Karamanlis said the European Union is obliged to accept Turkey as a full member once it "fulfills its obligation." That includes finding a solution to the Cyprus problem, expanding rights of religious minorities and reopening a Greek Orthodox seminary, shut down two decades ago, that had trained generations of leaders, including current Patriarch Bartholomew I.

Cyprus has been divided into an internationally recognized Greek Cypriot south and a breakaway Turkish Cypriot north since 1974, when Turkey invaded after a short-lived coup by Greek Cypriots aiming to unite the island with Greece.

Erdogan said reunification talks in Cyprus should resume with a new momentum after elections in the Greek Cypriot south next month.

Karamanlis agreed that the time had come to reunify the island.

Another core difference between the two countries is delineating the continental shelf in the Aegean Sea. The dispute, which affects mineral and oil exploration rights, nearly led to war in 1987.

Karamanlis reiterated Athens' position that the dispute be settled through the International Court of Justice in The Hague. Turkey believes the dispute should be resolved through dialogue.

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