ATHENS (Reuters)–Greek Prime Minister Costas Simitis has rebuffed a direct appeal from US President Bill Clinton for gentler diplomacy towards arch rival Turkey.
Simitis told Greek journalists at a European Union summit in Cardiff–Wales–on Tuesday that Clinton had telephoned him at the summit–urging Greece to release EU funds for Turkey and to take a less stringent position towards Turkey’s relations with the EU.
"I received a phone call from President Clinton and he urged me to change our position toward Turkey," Simitis said–according to an official transcript released by the Greek government. "I told President Clinton that this was not possible."
He said Clinton had said that if Greece could help satisfy Ankara’s concerns over its relations with the EU–the United States would then have an opportunity to pressure Turkey to make concessions of its own.
"He told me that (the Greek position) might lead to tension in the area," Simitis said. "My response was that Turkey–and not Greece–would be responsible for any tension in the area."
The Greek premier had earlier blocked attempts by the British EU presidency to ease tensions between the 15-nation bloc and Turkey that started in December when Turkey was left off a list of EU candidate countries.
The United States has repeatedly expressed its concern that snubbing Turkey could drive Ankara away from the West. It is also fearful that tensions between Greece and Turkey in the Aegean Sea could lead to clashes between the two NATO allies.
The EU in December told Turkey that to be a full candidate for EU membership it must improve its human rights record and its relations with Greece. Greece says Turkey has done nothing to meet any of these requiremen’s and that the EU’s position should not change until it has.
The EU leaders issued a statement at the end of their summit essentially reiterating the decision they took in December.
Clinton’s intervention provoked outrage in Greek media on Wednesday but gave an apparent boost to the political standing of Simitis–who is struggling to impose unpopular economic reforms on Greece to prepare it for Europe’s single currency.