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Thursday, 11 July, 2002, 16:41 GMT 17:41 UK
Profile: Ismail Cem - supreme diplomat
Greek Foreign Minister George Papandreou (L) and Ismail Cem
Cem's diplomacy led to rapprochement with Greece
Ismail Cem is one of the few Turkish politicians well-known outside his own country.

Before his resignation, he was one of Turkey's longest-serving foreign ministers and is credited with doing much to improve relations with the old enemy Greece.

The liberal Mr Cem is also seen as one of the most pro-European figures to emerge from the Bulent Ecevit's government.

But despite popularity at home and abroad, the skilled diplomat is sometimes viewed as an aloof figure, removed from the rough and tumble of politics in Ankara.

"He has been in politics long enough but he has always been a bit highbrow - perhaps because of the nature of his post," says newspaper columnist Sami Kohen.

Meteoric rise

Ismail Cem, born in 1940 to an elite family in Istanbul, started out as a journalist, becoming head of Turkish state radio and TV company TRT in 1974.

It was a meteoric rise for a man of his age in Turkey.

But the professed social democrat who set out to brighten up Turkey's dour broadcasters - much to the delight of the population - fell foul of conservatives and was sacked after only a year in the job.

Ismail Cem
Cem broke the mould on ties with Greece
In 1987 he was elected to parliament for the Social Democrat Populist Party and entered office as culture minister in 1995.

In 1997, having moved to Bulent Ecevit's own party, he was made foreign minister, a post he kept through two more changes of government.

He has managed to combine his job in politics with a career as a photographer, with several exhibitions to his name, and is married with two children.

His credentials as an international diplomat have been helped by a foreign education in Switzerland and Paris, fluency in French and English and a string of articles about politics and world affairs.

Greece and the EU

1999 was a key year for Mr Cem and his country, as he managed to negotiate candidate status for Turkey's bid to join the European Union.

But perhaps just as importantly, it was the year that Turkey broke the ice with Greece after years of hostility which had often threatened to assume a military form.

In a famous scene which made headlines in both countries, Mr Cem and his Greek counterpart George Papandreou joined in Greek dancing and singing on the Greek island of Samos.

The meeting was followed up with a much-photographed holiday in Turkey of the two men and their families.

But the amiable side to Mr Cem's character belies a strong sense of purpose, seen most recently during negotiations over using Nato assets in a planned EU rapid reaction force.

He refused to give in over Turkish objections to being excluded from decision-making.


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25 Jun 02 | Europe
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