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Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Bakoyannis' Interview With AP

The newly appointed Foreign Minister of Greece did not mince words during her interview today with the Associated Press. FM Dora Bakoyannis stated that Turkey must live up to its obligations as a prospective EU member ... "All countries adjusted their laws, accepted the European standards so that they could join the EU. Turkey must also do this. There is no Europe a la carte for any country, and not for Turkey." Well said. Read more on Foreign Minister Bakoyannis’ interview below:

Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis called on Turkey to live up to its obligations as a prospective EU member, including the retraction of a threat to declare war if Greece expands its territorial waters in the Aegean Sea, during an interview she gave to the Associated Press in Athens on Tuesday.

Bakoyannis also said that Turkey's Islamic government should allow the re-opening of a theological seminary that is important for the survival of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Istanbul where the spiritual leader of the world's 250 million Orthodox Christians has his headquarters.

"The final European course of Turkey will be judged by Turkey itself. Turkey has assumed some obligations and these obligations must be implemented," she told the AP.

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

According to the AP, Bakoyannis said Greece's relations with Turkey, the Turkish occupation of the northern part of the island of Cyprus, and the volatile western Balkans would be key issues she would discuss with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice during a meeting in Washington on Thursday.

Bakoyannis leaves for her first official visit to the US on Wednesday.

She said that a media report that Turkey would declare war if Greece extended its territorial waters from six to 12 nautical miles from the coast was an "anachronism".

Turkey's leading Hurriyet newspaper reported Monday that a classified Turkish foreign policy document it obtained said Greece cannot increase its 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, according to the AP.

"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."

Relations thawed in 1999 and Greece became Turkey's leading EU sponsor. Turkey also has until the end of the year to open its ports and airports to trade from Cyprus.

"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 UN-sponsored peace plan. She said recent talks between Cypriot President Tassos Papadopoulos and UN Secretary General Kofi Annan "again put forward discussions for the promotion of a viable solution on Cyprus."

One of Turkey's more important obligations, Bakoyannis added, was to respect human rights and religious freedom. She said it could start by re-opening the Halki seminary located on a Turkish island off Istanbul which has for generations trained the Patriarchate's priests, AP notes.

"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 told the AP. "It is not by chance that all countries in Europe and the United States urge Turkey to change its policies on the theological school of Halki and let it function like it did before 1971."

Turkey has been under pressure from the United States and the EU to re-open Halki, closed in 1971 under a law that put religious education under state control.

Although Ecumenical Patriarch Vartholomeos - a Turkish citizen and ethnic Greek - is considered to be the spiritual leader of the world's Orthodox, Turkey has long refused to accept any international role for him. It rejects his use of the title 'ecumenical' or universal, and argues the patriarch is merely spiritual leader of Istanbul's dwindling Greek community.

 "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. Erdogan respects human and religious freedoms," Bakoyannis told the AP. "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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