ANKARA (Kathimerini)–A letter sent to Greek Cypriot Prime Minister George Papandreou by his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan Friday proposes the establishment of a joint commission involving the premiers and ministers of both countries to debate key issues of bilateral concern such as Turkey’s occupation of Cyprus, tensions in the Aegean and illegal immigration, a top-ranking Turkish diplomat revealed during a visit to Athens yesterday.
Egemen Bagis, Turkey’s minister for European Union Affairs, was in Athens to attend a conference on Ankara’s EU accession prospects organized by the International Center for Black Sea Studies (ICBSS).
Bagis said Erdogan has expressed his interest in joint discussions with Greek government officials on a range of issues. But Bagis himself kept his cards rather close to his chest on issues of key concern to Greece, focusing more on the topic of Ankara’s EU accession bid, due for evaluation by the European Commission next month.
On the issue of Cyprus, Bagis noted that a settlement would be “beneficial for all involved” but reiterated that Turkey would only open its ports and airports to Cypriot ships and aircraft – in accordance with EU demands – if economic sanctions on the Turkish-occupied north of Cyprus are lifted.
As for the problem of illegal immigration, Bagis avoided commenting on the failure by Turkish authorities to honor an migrant repatriation pact signed by Athens and Ankara in 2003, referring instead to the arrests of smugglers that have been made on Turkish soil.
Nevertheless Bagis said he believed Erdogan’s initiative would spur dialogue and could possibly lead to progress on longstanding problems. “These days we discuss everything in Turkey, things that had been taboo in the past,” Bagis said, referring to a pact signed between Turkey and Armenia last month to restore diplomatic ties.
In a related development yesterday, Turkey’s state-run Anatolia news agency said that Erdogan was planning an official visit to Greece but that a date had yet to be set.