Rice Raises Patriarchates Unobstructed Operation, Halki Seminary Reopening, with Turkish FM in Washington Talks

WASHINGTON (ANA-MPA) - US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice put forward the issue of the unobstructed operation of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Istanbul and the re-opening of the Halki School of Theology to Turkish foreign minister Abdullah Gul during their meeting in Washington on Wednesday, Gul said on Thursday in reply to a question during his address at the Brookings Institution in the US capital.

Gul was the featured speaker at the Brookings Center on the United States and Europe briefing on "Turkish-US Relations: Looking Ahead" with his address focusing on a full range of Turkish foreign policy issues, including Turkish relations with the US, its candidacy for the EU, diplomacy with Iran, Cyprus and Iraq, and other regional issues.

Gul said that religious freedoms constituted a basic principle of democracy, adding that the Turkish government has prepared a fundamental bill which, he anticipated, would be approved by the Turkish national assembly (parliament) and would resolve many of the problems of the minorities in that country.

The issue of the Halki seminary school, he continued, constituted a constitutional issue, adding that the government's intention was its resolution. Speaking at the lnstitution the day after his meeting with Rice and just hours before he was due to visit the White House for talks with US President George Bush's national security advisor Stephen Hadley, Gul also said in response to a question on the Cyprus issue that it was a "long­standing problem."

He said that the Annan Plan had been backed by the international community and provided the opportunity for resolution of the problem, but was rejected by the Greek Cypriot side in a referendum in 2004, whereas the Turkish Cypriots, who voted in favor of the Plan in a simultaneous referendum, "were not rewarded with an end to their isolation, as the EU had promised."

Gul claimed that Cyprus president Tassos Papadopoulos' strategy had been to transfer the issue from the UN to the European Union, adding that '"Turkey cannot be coerced or pressured." He noted that he himself had submitted a proposal last January for the lifting of all the restrictions on (the Turkish-occupied sector of) Cyprus, "but it was not accepted by the other side."

The Turkish foreign minister opined that UN secretary general Kofi Annan was "working hard" to resolve the problem, adding that Turkey's desire was for "Greece, Turkey and a united Cyprus to co-exist peacefully in the eastern Mediterranean."

Replying to other questions, Gul said that Turkish criticism of US or Israeli foreign policy should not be equated with anti-Americanism or anti-Semitism in Turkey.

He further claimed that "no genocide of the Armenians was committed by the Ottoman authorities", adding that the Turkish government proposed the establishment of a committee of 'historians to examine the historical archives, and continuing that Turkey desired good neighbor relations with Armenia. On the Kurdish issue, Gul said that Turkey was expecting the US to "do more to confront the PKK", claiming that "northern Iraq is being used as a safe haven by the PKK terrorists." He said Turkey was interested in a peaceful coexistence with all the ethnic groups in Iraq and did not want any group to impose its own plans for the status of Kirkuk, while he also appeared optimistic that the opportunity would not be lost for resolving the problem with Iran's nuclear program.

(Posting date 1 August 2006)

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