31 March, 2009
Cyprus under occupation, foreign ministry stresses
The Greek foreign ministry on Monday cited United Nations Security Council resolutions and the decisions of the European Council regarding the Cyprus problem and Turkey's obligations toward the EU, after recent controversial statements uttered by the newly appointed U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Philip Gordon in Washington and a call to accelerate accession talks with Turkey made by European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso.
"There is an occupation on Cyprus and the international community recognises one government, the government of the Cyprus Republic," foreign ministry spokesman George Koumoutsakos underlined when asked to comment on Gordon's reference to the Turkish troops in northern Cyprus as a "Turkish presence" as opposed to an occupation force.
In terms of Barroso's statements after meeting Turkish President Abdullah Gul, in which the Commission President called on member-states to hurry up opening the energy chapter of the negotiations with Turkey currently blocked by Cyprus, Koumoutsakos said that Turkey's obligations were specific.
"It is a fact that the decisions of the European Council call for specific things in terms of the obligations that Turkey has toward all the member-states and, of course, the Cyprus Republic. I point out, therefore, the need to implement the Customs Union protocol without exception with all member-states and, of course, the normalisation of relations between Turkey, as a candidate state, with a member-state, the Cyprus Republic," the spokesman said.
Koumoutsakos said that he did not have information on whether U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton intended to have separate meetings with Cyprus Foreign Minister Markos Kyprianou and Turkish-Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat.
"A major effort is underway to solve the Cyprus issue and all moves must serve and not go against the purpose and goal of this process, in other words to find a solution. A solution can only be achieved on the basis of respecting specific principles, specific facts of international law and the decisions of the UN Security Council," he said.
Turkey does not currently recognise the official government of Cyprus and refuses to open its ports and airports to Cyprus-flagged vessels and aircraft, while it is the only country in the world that recognises the Turkish Cypriot regime in the northern part of the island.
Patriarchate problems a human rights issue, Athens stresses
Mr. Koumoutsakos also stressed that problems faced by the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Fanar were not bilateral issues confined to Greece and Turkey but broader issues of human rights and religious freedoms that also concerned the European Union and thus directly impacted on the progress of Turkey's EU accession negotiations.
He had been asked whether U.S. President Barack Obama intended to meet Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I during his upcoming visit to Turkey, and whether the Greek foreign ministry was working in this direction.
Replying, the spokesman said that he did not know the programme for Obama's visit but stressed that matters of respect and recognition of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, of allowing it to carry out its function and mission unobstructed, were "matters of the most major importance, matters of respect and protection of religious freedoms."
In addition to the EU, the United States had also displayed strong interest in the protection of religious freedoms, while Greece's great interest in these matters was self-evident, he added.
"In this sense, the foreign ministry and the foreign minister raise the issue of the Patriarchate and all related issues - such as reopening the Halki seminary - at all opportunities and with every interlocutor," he said, stressing that Athens' would persevere in this stance as long as the Ecumenical Patriarchate continued to face problems.
Athens rejects link between Muslim minority, Patriarchate
On a related issue, Koumoutsakos rejected any connection between issues relating to the Ecumenical Patriarchate and Greece's policy for the Muslim minority in Thrace, describing the two issues as "unrelated". The spokesman was replying to a question regarding a meeting between Archbishop of America Demetrius and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and whether Clinton had raised an issue of "mutuality" between the two issues.
"The issues of the Muslim minority in Thrace and the Ecumenical Patriarchate are not linked and not related. There is no issue of mutuality when it comes to respecting and exercising policies for the protection of human rights. Such a form of mutuality is not conceivable in our age. And it is not conceivable because it is the duty of democratic states to respect all rights and implement such policies. Greece does this. Turkey falls short," Koumoutsakos said, adding that he was unaware that Clinton had actually expressed such positions.
He underlined, also, that Greece adopted a policy of full equality before the law and state for all members of the Muslim minority, fully respecting the provisions of the Lausanne Treaty.
"The Greek State for the past 20 years, at least, in addition to the obligations arising from the Lausanne Treaty, has taken a number of additional measures in favour of the minority, either through direct positive measures, such as quotas for their entry into tertiary education and recruitment into the public sector, or indirectly, through national programme jointly funded by the EU," he said, noting that Greece adopted such policies as a European, democratic country and not on the basis of some form of "mutuality" with Turkish policies for the Greek minority living there.