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Greece Sees Opportunity for Peace

December 14, 1999

ATHENS, Greece (AP) _ Premier Costas Simitis on Tuesday said Turkey’s European Union candidacy will help resolve many of its chronic disputes with Greece, but added the road to lasting peace ``will be long and difficult.″

Simitis, who faces possible early elections in less than four months, said the EU’s decision had cracked decades of mistrust between regional rivals who have nearly fought three wars in the past 25 years over territory in the Aegean Sea.

``I want to emphasize that for the first time I see realistic possibilities,″ Simitis said. ``The road will be long and difficult, but now we see that it is achievable. It is achievable and possible.″

Simitis and his governing Socialist party received a boost from the EU decision _ made last week at its summit in Helsinki, Finland _ with recent polls showing that Greeks strongly favor Turkey’s candidacy.

Elections will be held on March 26, six months ahead of schedule, if parliament fails to elect a new president in February.

Foreign policy could play an important role in the pre-election campaign, and Simitis sought to sidestep opposition accusations that Greece’s decision not to veto Turkey’s candidacy harmed Greek sovereign rights in the Aegean Sea.

Greece abandoned demands for a goodwill gesture from Turkey and dropped its objections after the EU specified that the division of Cyprus, split since a 1974 Turkish invasion, will not hinder its accession into the body.

The EU also said that ``outstanding border disputes″ between Greece and Turkey should be settled at the international court of justice if the two countries can’t solve them by 2004.

``There will be difficulties, tensions,″ Simitis told a new conference. ``But that there are two peoples at odds with each other is a thing of the past.″

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