Turkey and Greece take a step towards reconciliation | International

Moment of tension during the press conference between Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Denidas (left) and Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavusoglu (right) in Ankara.ADEM ALTAN (AFP)

Turkey and Greece laid the first stone on the road to reconciliation on Thursday with a visit by the head of Hellenic diplomacy to Ankara, during a meeting which however also made it clear that the differences between the two countries are still very large. . “We had a frank and open dialogue and we were able to address all the questions [que nos dividen]. Today we have taken a step that we hope will benefit both our peoples,” Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias told a press conference after meeting with his Turkish counterpart. Mevlüt Çavusoglu, and with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. ., which was put on the agenda at the last minute, which gives an idea of ​​the importance of the visit.

At the Ankara meeting, the problem of the delimitation of waters and exclusive economic zones in the Aegean Sea and the Mediterranean, the management of migration, bilateral economic relations, the situation of Turkish minorities in Greece and Greek minorities in Turkey and the summit scheduled for Geneva to deal with the conflict in the divided island of Cyprus, of which both are the constitutional guarantors. Although the differences on these issues between the two countries remain significant, the two countries agreed to “stay away from provocations” and in a “constructive” tone, Çavusoglu said.

Tension between the two countries rose last year after the Turkish president announced the opening of the border to any refugee or migrant who wanted to flee to Greece. In the summer, there were several incidents between the military fleets of the two countries in the disputed waters of the eastern Mediterranean. Greece, along with France and Cyprus, pushed for the European Union to impose sanctions on Turkey, but another group of states, mainly Spain, Germany and Italy, acted as a mediator to reduce the tension between the parties. Since December, Turkey has kept its hydrocarbon exploration ships and the frigates it had previously sent to Greek and Cypriot waters in port, which has encouraged the melting of the ice.

In addition to Greece, Turkey has made offers of reconciliation to Egypt and Israel, which shows that it is “recalibrating” its policy in the eastern Mediterranean, estimates Michäel Tanchum, professor at the University of Navarre and specialist in this conflict. “The Ankara government fears that Turkey’s alienation from its neighbors has reached such a point that it harms its national interests,” he said.

In recent years, Greece has strengthened its relations and concluded security pacts with Egypt, Israel and the United Arab Emirates, in addition to carrying out military maneuvers with Saudi Arabia, all countries which maintain a strong rivalry with Turkey. In addition, the arrival of Joe Biden in the White House, with a tougher stance on Turkey, and increasing military cooperation between the United States and Greece – both of which are negotiating the use of a military base on the island of Crete- pushed the government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan to move.

On the EU side, France’s withdrawal from the group of countries calling for tough sanctions against Turkey (after Erdogan and his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron agreed to tone down their accusations), led Athens to accept a return to the table. negotiations with Turkey. . In January, a group of diplomats from the two countries met for the first time in five years, and the series of exploratory contacts was repeated in March, setting the stage for the meeting this Thursday, which could be followed by a meeting in Athens or, even, a meeting between Erdogan and the Hellenic Prime Minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, according to the invitation launched by Dendias.

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However, the obstacles to be overcome are immense, as the way in which the press conference ended showed. At the end of his speech, the head of Greek diplomacy warned that if Turkey “violates Greece’s sovereignty again, EU sanctions will be on the table again”. To this, a visibly angry Çavusoglu replied, “You have made false allegations and I must respond. Turkey has not violated anyone’s sovereign rights, all the actions we have taken have been to defend the rights of our country.” Dendias counterattacked, claiming that Turkish fighters illegally overflew the Greek islands 400 times in over the past year and criticizing Turkey’s refusal to abide by international laws: “If we want to turn the page on these negative months, we must first recognize what is right or wrong. Greece wants to move towards a positive agenda, but that does not mean that it gives up on its arguments”. And Çavusoglu spoke again to contradict his counterpart: “You talk about legality, but you violate the treaties signed by remilitarizing the islands [fronterizas con Turquía]. We want to solve the problems between the two countries. But if you want to continue the tension, we can continue it.” Finally, the two ministers left the press conference to share a Ramadan fast-breaking dinner.

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