Greece, Turkey leaders to meet, contentious issues endure

Relations last year went through several flare-ups over migration, regional energy exploration, a Turkish-Libya agreement disputed by Athens and Erdogan’s persistent questioning of post-war treaties with Greece.
Monday 31/05/2021
Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, right, speaks with his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu before their meeting at Maximos Mansion in Athens, May 31, 2021. (AP)
Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, right, speaks with his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu before their meeting at Maximos Mansion in Athens, May 31, 2021. (AP)

ATHENS--Greece and Turkey pledged on Monday to smooth differences which erupted into a public spat between their foreign ministers, announcing a meeting between President Tayyip Erdogan and Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis at next month’s NATO summit.

The two historic rivals are at odds over many issues from competing territorial claims in the eastern Mediterranean to migrant boats and the status of Cyprus. They came close to armed conflict last year but have since been trying to lower tensions.

“We are fully aware of the different and in some very serious issues, diametrically opposed positions that we have,” Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias said following a meeting with his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu in Athens.

“The purpose of today’s meeting was to attempt an initial negotiation process and if possible, a gradual normalisation of the situation over time.”

A “limited list” of economic partnerships had also been agreed, Dendias said, without elaborating.

Cavusoglu said Turkey wanted to pursue talks with Greece “without prerequisites and without terms,” according to the official translation.

The ministers did not take any questions from reporters.

Some Greek analysts say Erdogan favours talks with Greece ahead of a scheduled meeting at the NATO summit with US President Joe Biden, who appears less accommodating toward Ankara than his predecessor Donald Trump.

“At this point in time, Turkey is seeking a rapprochement, but on its own terms,” said Kostas Lavdas, professor of European politics at Athens’ Panteion university.

“Turkey has a positive stance because it needs to,” Lavdas told state TV ERT, also pointing to a late June EU summit expected to discuss Turkish relations.

 Several points of contention 

Greek-Turkish relations last year went through several flare-ups over migration, regional energy exploration, a Turkish-Libya agreement disputed by Athens and Erdogan’s persistent questioning of post-war treaties with Greece.

As recently as Sunday, the two countries traded barbs over the status of the Muslim minority living in north-eastern Greece, which Cavusoglu, while on a private visit to the area, described as “Turkish”. This prompted an angry response from the Greek foreign ministry.

“The Muslim minority in Thrace has about 120,000 Greek inhabitants,” the ministry said in a statement.

“Turkey’s constant attempts to distort this reality, as well as the allegations of non-protection of the rights of these citizens or of discrimination, are unfounded and are rejected in their entirety,” it added.

The status of Greece’s Muslim minority is one of several points of contention between the two NATO allies.

But the ministers were at pains to avoid a repeat of their public row over sovereignty at a news conference in Ankara last month.

Cavusoglu said Turkey wanted to improve economic ties with Greece and said there had been concrete steps on 25 articles in areas ranging from transport to energy, the environment, tourism and trade.

He also said they had decided to recognise each other’s COVID-19 vaccination certificates to permit travel between the countries.

“I would like to say that, as Turkey, we have the will for these actions and I am happy to see the same will from Greece,” he said.

He said Erdogan and Mitsotakis were planning to meet at the NATO summit in Brussels on June 14.