US Cools Aegean Islands Clash

Article excerpt

A four-day confrontation between Turkey and Greece, both Nato members, over ownership of an outcrop of rocks in the Aegean Sea was brought to a peaceful end yesterday by the telephone diplomacy of the American trouble-shooter Richard Holbrooke.

Telephoning repeatedly from Washington, he turned his negotiating skills from Bosnia to the conflict over three barren football-pitch-sized Aegean islets.

Pressure to disengage was also put on both sides by President Bill Clinton and the US Secretary of State, Warren Christopher, the British Defence Secretary, Malcolm Rifkind, and the UN and Nato secretaries-general.

The crisis over the outcrops - known as Imia in Greek and Kardak in Turkish - ended in the early hours of yesterday. The only casualties were the three-man crew of a Greek helicopter, missing after it crashed.

Both sides agreed to remove their flags, pull back 20-odd warships, stop warplane sorties and withdraw troops. Greece sent nine soldiers to an island on Sunday, while Turkey landed 12 commandos on its neighbour yesterday.

Turkish leaders presented the commando action as the event that forced Greece to reconsider its position. After a night on the rocks, the Turkish troops stepped triumphantly off their inflatable attack craft to the cheers of local fishermen.

"There is no agreement as such. We were informed of the Greek intention to withdraw to the status quo ante," said the Turkish foreign ministry spokesman, Omer Akbel. "This was our original position, so we welcomed that. …