Greco-Turkish relations show a thaw

To the untrained eye, the steps Greece and Turkey are taking towards improving ties are so small as to be almost imperceptible. Yet the Greek-Turkish relationship has been paralysed by hostility and mistrust for so long that any movement seems a change for the better.

Greek Deputy Foreign Minister, Georgios Papandreou, and his Turkish counterpart, Onur Oymen, agreed at a meeting in Malta last week to set up a committee of independent experts from both countries to discuss how to improve relations.

Despite stressing that the experts would not represent their governments and that no one should expect "immediate and sweeping results", Mr Papandreou pronounced himself satisfied that this was the right way forward for the two countries.

But the process is likely to be slow because Greece does not anticipate any face-to-face meetings between the experts. Instead they intend to communicate indirectly, through the European Union's Dutch presidency. Moreover, Greece has been at pains to underline that the experts' talks will not even constitute a "dialogue", a word which in diplomatic parlance implies something friendly and official. Rather, they will focus on "procedural issues relating to Greek-Turkish disputes".

Of these there are plenty, ranging from the Cyprus conflict to arguments over territorial waters, islands, airspace and mineral rights in the Aegean Sea.

In what looks like a conciliatory gesture ahead of the talks, Greece has postponed military flights in Greek Cypriot airspaceand has put off a joint exercise with the Greek Cypriot national guard. But the small initiatives towards Turkey have proved too much for recalcitrants in Greece's ruling Pasok party. Thirty-two members of parliament are opposed to almost any form of talks with Turkey and similar intransigence is felt in Turkey, too.

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