WASHINGTON (ANA - T. Ellis) -- Greek Foreign Minister George Papandreou, whose country currently holds the rotating European Union presidency, from Athens on Tuesday said he believed Turkey's European course and the Cyprus issue will be on the agenda - although not high on the agenda - of the upcoming US-EU Summit to be held on 25 June in Washington.
Papandreou was speaking at an hour-long tele-conference between Washington, Brussels and Athens with questions posed by Washington-based US and European reporters to the Greek foreign minister in Athens, and European Commissioners Chris Patten (External Affairs) and Pascal Lamy (Trade), both in Brussels.
The Greek foreign minister, who is currently heading the EU's Council of Ministers, reminded a recently-reiterated US commitment for a solution of the Cyprus issue, and noted that the free movement of citizens between the two communities on the island republic proved that the dividing ''green line'' was collapsing.
Cyprus has been divided since 1974 when Turkish troops invaded and occupied 37 percent of the island's territory, its northern sector recognised as a "state" only by Turkey.
The north lifted travel restrictions at the checkpoints for two-way movement just before Orthodox Easter in April. A nine-nation U.N. peacekeeping force guards the 180-kilometre-long Green Line.
Answering reporters' questions during the teleconference, Papandreou placed emphasis on the meeting between the EU and the heads of Western Balkan states to be held on 22 June, after the conclusion of the upcoming EU Summit meetings on 20 and 21 June in Thessaloniki, northern Greece, and said that Western Balkan countries were increasingly becoming part of the European family, but he nevertheless insisted on the continuation of US interest and presence in the region.
With regard to the signing of an agreement between the EU and US for judicial cooperation in criminal matters, including a clause on the issue of extradition, Papandreou said the text of the agreement did not restrict, but on the contrary strenghtened, the rights of citizens, and he pointed to a stipulation in the text saying that extradition of the requested persons to the US would not take place if such persons run the risk of receiving the death penalty.
European Union justice ministers in Luxembourg on 6 June unanimously ratified the text regarding the extradition agreement between the EU and the United States and gave authorisation for its signing in Washington on June 25 during the summit between U.S. President George W. Bush, Greek Prime Minister and EU Council President in-office Costas Simitis, and European Commission President Romano Prodi.
At the tele-conference, Patten moved along the same lines saying that the parties on both sides of the Atlantic wanted to cooperate in the fight against international terrorism, and he pointed to what he called close cooperation between ''Europol'' with the FBI and other US security agencies.
About the forthcoming Bush-Simitis-Prodi meeting in Washington, Papandreou said it would focus on repairing transatlantic relations, non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and the reconstruction of Iraq, and he pointed to the experience of EU states such as Greece, Spain and Portugal, and of course the former Soviet republics, to support his point that the Union could prove very instrumental in Iraq's democratization process.
''Europe wants to be treated as an equal partner of the US and it is willing to make all efforts to achieve that'', he stressed.
Other issues raised during the tele-conference included recent violations of human rights in Cuba, which the Greek foreign minister condemned, and also trading issues between the two transatlantic economic superpowers.
Patten noted that good US-EU cooperation was to the benefit of humanity, while Lamy, during his repeated interventions on economic and trade relations, attempted to sketch out a positive environment, saying that despite problems and differences, at the end of the day what mattered was to ''see the forest, not just some of the trees''.