New Greek Foreign Minister to meet Davutoğlu during Libya talks

New Greek Foreign Minister to meet Davutoğlu during Libya talks

The fourth Libya Contact Group meeting to be held this week in Istanbul (July 15-16) will no doubt attract wide world attention. The situation in Libya is at a critical stage with Gadhafi now threatening attacks against European targets, while rebels are consolidating their power in parts of the country. The location of the meeting has its particular symbolic importance after Turkey’s full diplomatic swing. After a prolonged diplomatic see-sawing starting with an initial opposition to the Western-led military action, Turkey has as of last week, recognized the rebels of the Transitional National Council as the legitimate representative of the Libyan people. Mr. Davutoglu’s recent visit to Benghazi confirmed Ankara’s change of heart and he will not doubt have a lot to discuss on this with Hilary Clinton during the Istanbul meeting.

But, the Istanbul meeting will also be a platform for another meeting with its own symbolic importance on a regional level. Although not confirmed yet, (watch the news) the Istanbul meeting on Libya will bring together for the first time Ahmet Davutoğlu, only just reconfirmed to the post after the recent general elections in Turkey, with the new Minister of Foreign Affairs of Greece, Stavros Lambrinidis. Lambrinidis, a dynamic MEP and a vice president of the Party of European Socialists was given the foreign affairs portfolio after the Greek government reshuffle on June 17. The times are tough with the image of Greece at its lowest ebb particularly among the public opinion of its European partners. In a few days since his appointment, Lambrinidis already embarked in a frantic tour of Cyprus, Germany, Holland and the Balkans. His task is doubly difficult. He has to improve the spirit of negativism towards Greece among Europeans, but at the same time he has to avert the fears inside his country that Greece being “at the edge of the cliff,” is more likely to “give away” strong cards of its foreign policy.

During a radio interview to the Greek Real FM radio, Lambrinidis was adamant that there would be, “no change whatsoever on national issues and no danger because of Greece’s difficult economic situation.” When asked whether the ongoing Turkey-Greece exploratory talks have reached a jointly committed plan to go to the International Court of Justice, or ICJ, for a settlement on the continental shelf between the two countries, he replied “the exploratory talks have not finished yet” and that he was not in a position to say whether the two countries will resort to the ICJ or not. Much more interesting was his reply to the question whether Greece intends to declare an Exclusive Economic Zone, or EEZ, around certain island close to Turkey in order to prevent Ankara from challenging their continental shelf. “For Greece, EEZ is a right which can be exercised whenever it considers proper… Ankara may attempt to do many things and on the basis of its own aims it may make statements wherever and however it wishes… each time, it has received an instant response from Greece…Greek foreign policy is a continuity, it does not change with different governments. There may be possible adjustments, but it does not change…especially on foreign policy issues we have to retain a self confidence as a country of special importance in the region and beyond this.”

Lambrinidis’s first official trip was to Cyprus. From there he stressed the “brotherly relations” between Athens and Nicosia and declared “the key to a fair solution in Cyprus, is held by Ankara who has to change stance… because as long as there is occupation (by the Turkish army in the North), there is no EU entry.”

There is a general feeling in Greece that Lambrinidis was “the right man for the right job.” His experience in Brussels, they say, may prove extremely useful at a time when Greece has an upright task in trying to convince European that it is not the central problem of the EU’s economic stability. At the same time he is knowledgeable of the complications in Turkey’s EU entry process at a moment when Ankara wishes to renew its EU efforts through an upgraded EU Ministry led by Egemen Bağış. If Ankara wishes for a United Cyprus to take up the EU presidency during the second half of 2012, as Mr. Davutoğlu publicly declared, then the next period will be interesting in the Turkey-Greece relations.

Provided, of course, the Papandreou government survives until then