President Clinton on U.S. Policy in Turkey and Greece

The following are excerpts of speeches delivered by President Clinton in Istanbul and Athens during his 10-day November trip to southeastern Europe.

Istanbul, Turkey - November 16, 1999
December 1999 - I am honored to be in this historic city of two continents and three empires, now the modern hub of Turkey's free-market democracy. President Demirel has said that Turkey is situated at the center of the world. That was true in ancient times; it was true in the twentieth century even after the end of the Ottoman Empire. It will be even more true in the twenty-first century.

What Turkey does and what Turkey and the United States do together in the coming years will help to determine whether stability takes root in the Balkans and the Aegean, whether true and lasting peace comes to the people of the Middle East, and whether democratic transformations in the states of the former Soviet empire, from the Caucasus to Central Asia, actually succeed.

Clearly, economic developments will have a lot to do with our success in all these endeavors. The steps the United States and Turkey take together today to improve the climate for trade, investment, and jobs will help to bring this region together, to reduce tensions, and to strengthen democratic governments. In turn, the strengthening of freedom and stability will do even more to spur prosperity. There is hardly a place in the world where the intersection of politics and economics is more clearly complete.
First, let me applaud the bold economic reforms taken by Turkey, including landmark legislation on social security, international arbitration, banking regulation, and the budget. These are part of a global trend of opening markets, strengthening financial stability, and imposing fiscal discipline, while working to ensure that society's most vulnerable are not left behind. These measures will improve the climate for trade and investment, and will lead to more jobs and higher incomes for the people of Turkey.

Second, I am very pleased that trade between the United States and Turkey has reached new heights, rising 50 percent in the last five years alone, now surpassing $6 billion. The United States is the fourth-largest supplier of exports to Turkey and the second-largest market for exports from Turkey. Following the August 17 earthquake and the pressures it put on the economy here, the United States has gone the extra mile to be flexible on Turkish textile exports and has recently taken important steps to further expand trade and investment between our two countries.
In September, during Prime Minister Ecevit's visit, the United States and Turkey signed a trade and investment framework agreement to cut through red tape and work through disagreements in our trading relationship. Our Overseas Private Investment Corporation will soon double its activity in Turkey to more than $1 billion. Our Export-Import Bank will delegate $1 billion in lending authority to 12 Turkish banks--powerful evidence of Washington's confidence in Turkey's economy and our commitment to strengthen it. In turn, Turkey's decision to open its market to cattle imports will benefit U.S. ranchers and Turkish consumers.

We are also on the verge of completing some major agreements: a $30 million contract for a vessel-tracking system to help keep the crowded Bosporus safe and protect the environment, a framework agreement for joint irrigation projects in southeastern Turkey, and a half-dozen power plants worth some $5 billion. These projects will be good for both countries, and I hope we can conclude all of them soon.

Third, we are moving ahead to build energy security in the new century. We have made great strides toward the proposed Baku-Ceyhan oil pipeline and the trans-Caspian gas pipeline. These will help to diversify our sources of energy and help the newly-independent countries of the Caucasus and Central Asia stand on their own feet. They will put Turkey, our trusted ally, front and center in the effort to create a secure energy future.

I will bet that, if you polled the citizens of the United States and Turkey, over 90 percent of them would never have heard of the Baku-Ceyhan oil pipeline or the trans-Caspian gas pipeline. But, if we do this right, 20 years from now, 90 percent of them will look back and say thank you for making a good decision at a critical time.
Fourth, greater economic cooperation and integration is vital to the future of Turkey and its southeastern European neighbors. A central challenge, of course, is building stronger economic ties between Turkey and Greece as part of a larger effort for reconciliation and cooperation between your two countries. I am very pleased that the private sector is leading the way. But the Turkish-Greek Business Council is back in business, and both nations are talking about increasing bilateral trade and tourism.
Political and economic forces here, again, reinforce each other. In order for Washington's two NATO allies, Greece and Turkey, to be full partners in the European Union, bilateral relationships must improve. In order for southeastern Europe to overcome the Balkan wars in Bosnia and Kosovo, and the legacy of communism in the other states of the southeast, the nations of the region must draw closer to each other, and then together draw closer to the new Europe.
These efforts can only succeed if Greece and Turkey are leading the effort. Because of the earthquakes and the human response to them by both Turks and Greeks, because of the outstanding leadership in the Turkish and Greek governments, because of the Cyprus talks just announced, we now have a genuine opportunity for fundamental and enduring reconciliation between your two lands. I will do everything I can to help you seize this chance. I believe seizing this chance will have enormous economic as well as political benefit to the ordinary citizens of Turkey well into the next century.

The last point I want to make is this: if we want strong economic growth and lasting prosperity, it is essential that we work everywhere to deepen freedom and democracy, in our own countries and around the world. I applaud the strides Turkey is making in this regard, not because the Americans or the Europeans want it, but because it is the right thing for the Turkish people.

I encourage further progress in these areas, such as freedom of expression, because it is right and because we in America have a great stake in Turkey's stability, in Turkey's ability to reap the full benefits of the information age and the global economy, in Turkey's full integration into Europe, and in Turkey's full success as a modern, prosperous, secular society bridging East and West. I am proud that the United States and Turkey are working as partners to build better lives for our citizens.

Athens, Greece - November 20, 1999
The whole world is beginning to see Greece in a new light, no longer as one of Europe's poorest nations, but as southeast Europe's wealthiest nation--its beacon of democracy, a regional leader for stability, prosperity, and freedom, helping to complete the democratic revolution that ancient Greece began, our long-held dream of a Europe undivided, free, and at peace for the first time in history.

The remaining challenges to that long-held dream are all at play here in this region of Europe--the challenges of bringing stability, prosperity, and full democracy to the Balkans, of creating a lasting peace in the Aegean and genuine reconciliation between Greece and Turkey, of integrating a democratic Russia into Europe, and of building bridges between and among the world's three great faiths which come together in southeastern Europe --Islam and the Eastern and Western branches of Christianity.

To finally create that Europe, undivided, free, and at peace, we must help this region meet five main challenges.

The first and most urgent challenge is to stabilize Kosovo and the Balkans and build the democratic institutions necessary so that all of the people of Kosovo can live in safety and freedom, including the Serbs of Kosovo.

I want to thank the Greek government for staying with its NATO allies during a crisis which was far harder on you than on any other country in our alliance, for getting aid to the civilians in Kosovo regardless of their ethnic backgrounds while the fighting raged, and for committing resources to the reconstruction of Kosovo, just as you have contributed to the rebuilding of Bosnia and Albania. We can take pride in our troops from the United States and Greece serving together in the same sector to keep the peace holding.

Second, we have to strengthen the forces of democracy in Serbia and pave the way for Serbia's eventual integration into southeastern Europe and the European community as a whole. Greece can lead the revitalization of the economy and the political and civic life of southeastern Europe, but the work will never be complete until Serbia is a part of the process. We can agree that the people of Serbia deserve better than to be suffering under the last living relic of Europe's dictatorial past. That is why the international community must maintain pressure on Mr. Milosevic's regime, while also aiding the democratic aspirations of the Serbian people.
Third, we face the challenge of helping every nation in the region build the institutions that make modern democracy thrive. As the only member both of NATO and the EU in southeastern Europe, Greece is helping to guide this truly historic transformation. The Greek military is laying the foundations for peace through its role in southeastern Europe's multinational peacekeeping force and through NATO's Partnership for Peace. Greek companies are investing in the Balkans, creating jobs and higher living standards.
The Greek government is leading the transformation of the region's economy, committing $320 million for reconstruction of southeastern Europe, and the rest of us must follow your lead if the Stability Pact is to have true meaning.

Greece is breaking down barriers to trade and transportation through the Southeast European Cooperative Initiative (SECI) and is providing crucial seed capital through the Black Sea Trade and Development Bank. Thessaloniki is becoming known as the commercial hub of the Balkans.
I am pleased that next month the U.S. will open our office for Balkan reconstruction in Thessaloniki. I have asked the U.S.-Greece Business Council to undertake an investment mission to the Balkans. Our two governments will give Greek and American companies a chance to jointly apply their technical knowledge to the region's challenges, from cleaning up pollution on the Danube to wiring Balkan villages for the internet.

Our fourth challenge is to build a genuine reconciliation between Greece and Turkey. I know how much history lies behind that troubled relationship, but people in both nations are beginning to see the possibilities of forging a new and better future. The world will never forget the humanity Greeks and Turks displayed toward one another when tragic earthquakes struck you both in August, and then in Turkey again last week. But this is more than just seismic diplomacy.

For several months, Foreign Ministers George Papandreou and Ismail Cem have been holding a dialogue on trade, tourism, and the environment. Greek and Turkish troops in the NATO alliance have joined together in a southeast Europe peacekeeping brigade and are serving together now in Kosovo. Greece has taken bold steps. In many ways, these steps have been harder for Greece than for Turkey. But both sides are now showing the vision necessary to move forward.

I believe it is very much in Greece's interest to see Turkey become a candidate for membership in the European Union, for that will reinforce Turkey's secular, democratic, modernizing path, showing Turkey how much it has to gain by making progress on issues like Cyprus and the Aegean matters.

It will prove to Turkey that there is a place in Europe for a predominantly Muslim country as long as it respects the rights of all its people and advances the cause of peace. For many of these same reasons, the United States has also strongly supported the European Union's decision to start accession talks with Cyprus.

Many Greeks are anxious that, if Turkey becomes a candidate for membership, the momentum in improving its relationship with Greece and actually solving these problems will slow. I do not believe that will happen. But I will do everything in my power to encourage both countries to continue building on the progress you have made.

I am going to keep working hard to promote a just and lasting settlement in Cyprus. I am very pleased that the parties in Cyprus accepted Secretary General Kofi Annan's invitation to start proximity talks, to prepare the ground for meaningful negotiations that would lead to a comprehensive settlement of the Cyprus problem. I hope these talks will bring us a step closer to lasting peace. I will keep pressing for a settlement that meets the fundamental interests of the parties, including real security for all Cypriots and an end to the island's division. The status quo is unacceptable.

I will say here what I said in Turkey: I think it is very good for the future of the world for Turkey to be integrated into Europe. But Turkey cannot be fully integrated successfully into Europe without solving its difficulties with Greece.

Our fifth and final challenge is to renew the old and profoundly important partnership between the United States and Greece. We should promote more tourism and more cultural exchanges. We should continue to supply our NATO ally, Greece, with advanced weaponry. We should be working together to fight global threats that know no borders, including the scourge of terrorism. Terrorists have struck within the borders of the United States; they have struck in Greece, claiming American and Greek lives. The American people and the Greek people deserve justice and the strongest possible efforts by our governments to end this menace. We are working more closely to do just that.

Soon, the world will have an opportunity to see Athens throw open the gates of the city to the Olympic games in 2004. By then, I want all of the world to see what we know today. Greece is a force for freedom, democracy, stability, growth, and the dignity of the individual to inspire a more humane world.

All essays published this website reflect the opinions of the individual authors and may or may not reflect the opinions of the Western Policy Center.

Experts & Staff

  • Christian F. Ostermann // Director, History and Public Policy Program; Global Europe; Cold War International History Project; North Korea Documentation Project; Nuclear Proliferation International History Project
  • Emily R. Buss // Program Assistant