Greece and Turkey are talking -- but Cyprus is key to resolving dispute
Athens — That the foreign ministers of Greece and Turkey met at all last week is encouraging. The two-hour meeting in Strasbourg, France, on April 28 - the first since a 10-minute talk in October 1982 - was intended to lift the shadow of mistrust that has typified relations between these two NATO allies for 10 years. The diplomatic chiefs announced in a joint statement afterward that they had reexamined relations between the two countries and would make ''every effort'' to improve ties and abstain from aggressive action that could hinder relations.
Greek Foreign Minister Ioannis Charalambopoulos described the meeting as ''a new step'' and added that the meeting had ''a satisfactory result, provided (the steps) agreed upon will be applied.''
''The essense is to adhere to the commitments we have made,'' said Turkish Foreign Minister Ilter Turkmen.
They are to meet again in Paris during a June 9-10 session of NATO foreign ministers.
High-level contacts between Greece and Turkey ceased after the Socialists came to power in October 1981 in Greece. But for years, geography and circumstances have given the relationship between these countries which share common borders and inhabit opposing shores of an inland sea an unpleasant twist. Among the chafing points:
* Territorial water rights. Greeks control all but two of the Aegean islands, and some are within swimming distance of Turkey. There are almost daily incidents with Greeks fishing in Turkish waters and vice versa.
Another problem arose with the discovery of oil near the northern Aegean island of Thasos in 1974. Ankara asked for a division of the Aegean seabed between Greece and Turkey on a 50-50 basis. Greece claimed that Greek islands were entitled to their continental shelf and what was left could go to Turkey. Constantine Caramanlis, the Greek premier at the time, proposed that the matter be referred to the International Court of Justice in The Hague, but Turkey has refused to do this.
* Cyprus. Since 1931, Greece has insisted that although its territorial waters were six miles, its air space around its islands would be 10. Turkey accepted this arrangement until 1974, when it landed troops in Cyprus and a Greek-Turkish war seemed imminent. Turkey's action in Cyprus followed a coup in which Greek officers in the island's National Guard toppled the government of Archbishop Makarios. The dispute remains unsettled.
* Military responsibilities. Turkey asked for a bigger share of NATO operational responsibility in the Aegean after Greece withdrew from NATO's military wing in 1974. Greece asked for reintegration in 1980. Efforts to clarify the areas of Greek and Turkish responsibility in the Aegean have failed so far.
Furthermore, Ankara has viewed with suspicion the establishment of troops on certain Greek islands along its shores. Turkey has repeatedly asked for the immediate demilitarization of such islands. But Greece, fearing a repetition of the Cyprus exercise, refuses to leave them undefended.
Efforts made through the good offices of NATO and European Community friends of both countries resulted in a brief meeting of Turkmen and Charalambopoulos in Ottawa in October 1982. A second meeting, set for Dec. 9, 1982, in Brussels, was canceled, following repeated violations of the Aegean airspace during Turkish air and Navy maneuvers.
There have been airspace violations over the Aegean since then, but Greece has played them down as though it was determined to resume the dialogue with Turkey.
''It was evident for some time that both sides were eager to establish a dialogue,'' journalist Pavlos Bakoyannis said.
The two countries are dealing with the Cyprus issue as though it were only a problem between the Greek and Turkish communities of the island. But Cyprus remains the key to goodwill between Greece and Turkey.
''Without some evidence of progress there, no government can proceed to other serious settlements,'' Manolis Kothris, former chairman of the Cyprus House of Representatives' Foreign Relations Committee, said.