The announcement by US secretary of state Hillary Clinton that president Barack Obama is to visit Turkey in the next month or so sparked indignation among Greek media and prompted the country’s main opposition party to attack prime minister Costas Karamanlis government’s foreign policy as “inept and irresolute”.
On March 7 2009, Clinton said that Obama would visit Turkey: “within the next month or so. The exact date will be announced shortly. We are co-ordinating with the Turkish Government to find a date that works for both of our presidents and our governments”.
Reaction among most Greek media was typified by a headline in daily Eleftheros: “President Obama rushes to Ankara and provocatively ignores Greece”.
Customarily, US presidents who visit Ankara also visit Athens.
Greece’s main opposition party, Pasok, said: “Obama’s announcement that he plans to only visit Turkey proves once again how inept and irresolute the Greek government is in foreign policy.”
On March 10, a calmer view came from Greek paper To Vima: “Why Obama is going to Turkey – Key issues: Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan and Palestinian issue”. The newspaper said that Obama, recognising an upgraded role for Turkey in the Middle East and central Asia, would visit Ankara in the coming weeks in an effort to close a series of “burning fronts” such as Iraq, Afghanistan and the Palestinian issue and for rapprochement with Teheran and Damascus.
According to the White House website, on February 16 2009 Obama had telephone conversations with Turkish president Abdullah Gul and prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan
Obama “emphasised the importance of the United States’ alliance with Turkey and said he looks forward to working with both president Gul and prime minister Erdogan on a broad agenda of mutual strategic interest,” the White House said.
“The president emphasised his desire to strengthen US-Turkish relations and to work together effectively in Nato. In each call, he reiterated the need to co-operate to meet the challenges of the 21st century together. In both calls, the leaders discussed a number of current issues, including US support for the growing Turkish-Iraqi relationship, the importance of co-operation in Middle East peace efforts, and the U.S. review on Afghanistan and Pakistan policy,” according to the White House statement.
On March 10, Greek daily Kathimerini said that Athens had played down its concern at the news that Obama intended to visit Turkey and not Greece in the near future.
Greek diplomats were stepping up efforts to secure a meeting between Obama and Karamanlis. Media reports said that attempts were being made to set up a meeting between the two at the Nato summit on April 2 to 4.
“Greece has no reason to follow the dead-end logic of out-and-out competition with other countries,” government spokesman Evangelos Antonaros was quoted as saying.