When Greeks and Turks talk

WHEN feuding neighbors agree to talk things over, it's generally a good sign. The dialogue often eases tension and reduces problems. The recent summit meeting in Davos, Switzerland, between Turkish Prime Minister Turgut Ozal and Greek Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou marked the first face-to-face talks between the two NATO nations' leaders in many decades.

The results were hardly dramatic. Still, by meeting six times in two days, chatting comfortably with each other in English, and setting a new cooperative tone, the leaders made an important beginning. They agreed to meet at least once a year, and Prime Minister Ozal has already amended his travel plans for the next NATO meeting in Brussels to include a stop on his way home in Athens March 5.

Relations between Greece and Turkey have historically been prickly. A major disagreement has evolved over territorial and mineral rights in the Aegean. Numerous Greek islands lie just off Turkey's west coast. If each island has a right to territorial waters, as Greece claims that international law ensures, Turkey becomes virtually landlocked on the west. Turkey insists the situation is exceptional and wants to divide the Aegean.

Turkey has long been ready to talk. Greece, which has more to lose from a change in the status quo, set conditions for talks: removal of Turkish troops from Cyprus and graphic signs that Turkey is moving toward full democracy. But such criteria were dropped after a heated dispute last March over oil drilling rights almost led to war; the two leaders began an exchange of letters which led to the Swiss summit. Mr. Papandreou had added reason to seek a rapprochement: He is running for a third term in June 1989 and wants to be viewed as a man of peace; he also gains new leverage from Turkey's desire to become a member of the European Community.

The leaders set their summit sights on modest accomplishment: They set up a joint economic council to promote trade and tourism, agreed to install a direct telephone ``hot line,'' and vowed that last year's close brush with war must never be repeated.

The Aegean issue, which Greece wants to submit to the World Court, was left largely untouched. So was the dispute over the future of Cyprus, where the Greek majority and Turkish minority live behind sharp dividing lines. Greece wants Turkey's 30,000 occupying troops on the northern side of the island out before the two communities negotiate their future under United Nations auspices. Turkey, which sent its troops in during a 1974 Greek-backed coup attempt, wants an agreement before removing its troops.

Turkey and Greece thus still have much to resolve. But the fact that their leaders are now talking, pledging themselves to a goal of ``lasting peaceful relations,'' can only be seen as a step in the right direction.

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