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Holbrooke: Greece, Turkey
were on verge of battle

January 31, 1996
Web posted at: 6:30 p.m. EST (2330 GMT)

ATHENS, Greece (CNN) -- The dispute between Greece and Turkey over an uninhabited islet in the Aegean Sea came perilously close to a military confrontation Tuesday night, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Richard Holbrooke said Wednesday.

Holbrooke

Holbrooke said top U.S. officials led by President Clinton negotiated a late-night compromise to resolve the issue between Greece and Turkey.

Clinton launched the effort by talking to the president and prime minister of Turkey and the new Greek prime minister, Holbrooke said. Then, a band of top U.S. officials -- including Holbrooke, Secretary of State Warren Christopher, Defense Secretary William Perry, National Security Advisor Anthony Lake and Gen. John Shalikashvili -- manned the phones all night.

Holbrooke said a Turkish takeover of the tiny rock would have thrown Greece into a political crisis and forced it to respond. At one point, Holbrooke said, Turkey's prime minister gave Greece a two-hour ultimatum.

Island

"It would have been absurd for people to go to war or use military force in regard to this little piece of rock," Holbrooke said. (187K AIFF sound or 187K WAV sound)

Turkey and Greece had vowed to defend their claims to the end, and by Tuesday both nations had sent growing numbers of planes, warships and commandos into the region.

Holbrooke acknowledged that "the two sides cannot talk to each other," but said they were willing to guarantee through the United States that neither side would put troops or its flag on the island.

Map

Analyst Paul Beaver agreed with Holbrooke's assessment, saying Turkey and Greece were only willing to listen as long as the U.S. officials had Clinton's support. Beaver described the situation in the Aegean as a culmination of events over the past several months. (119K AIFF sound or 119K WAV sound)

However, the negotiation has sparked outrage among many Greeks, who have called for Prime Minister Costas Simitis' resignation over the matter, blaming him for treason.

The dispute has lead to the postponement of a planned U.S. initiative regarding the island of Cyprus, which remains divided between its Greek and Turkish populations.

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