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Are Greece-Turkey Talks the Nail in the Coffin of Turkish Sanctions?

Greece-Turkey Talks
Greece-Turkey talks will continue in Athens in the Spring. Credit: Ministry of Foreign Affairs

The Greece-Turkey exploratory talks that were widely anticipated in the international political world recommenced on Monday, with the two sides agreeing to meet again.

Despite the fact that the diplomats agreed to continue talks in Athens in the near future, it is unlikely that they will bear fruit for the Greek side.

The exploratory talks that started 19 years ago were put on ice for five years after being broken off in 2016. This most recent version of diplomatic parleys was the 61st round of talks.

The talks were beneficial for Turkey, however — simply because they postpone the possibility of European Union sanctions against Ankara.

EU leaders met in December of 2020 and discussed Turkey’s string of illegal incursions and provocations in the Eastern Mediterranean; Ankara was duly warned that sanctions could be imposed unless the acts would stop.

Yet Turkey continued unfettered to violate Greek airspace and territorial waters — while at the very same time inviting Greece to restart exploratory talks.

Greece agreed to sit at the table, but only to discuss the demarcation of maritime zones, such as Exclusive Economic Zones, continental shelves and territorial waters.

Turkey, on the other hand, wanted to bring to the table issues such as demilitarization of Greek islands in the Aegean and sovereign rights.

Greece argues that Turkey’s demands go against the International Law of the Sea and international conventions, including the Treaty of Lausanne.

The Greek side has repeatedly stated that Ankara can only bring its demands – which it deems unreasonable – before the International Court of Justice.

Germany initiates Greece-Turkey talks

Germany is the country that initiated the recommencement of talks between the two countries, with Chancellor Angela Merkel playing a crucial role within the EU. German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas visited Ankara in January to seal the agreement on the part of Turkey.

It must be noted that Germany has been staunchly against any sanctions against Turkey since the beginning of the country’s most recent spate of illegal acts in the Eastern Mediterranean.

Merkel’s partiality appears to stem from the fact that Germany is Turkey’s most important trading partner, with the country serving as the top destination for Turkish exports.

Trade between the two countries totaled around 35.4 billion euros in 2019, with the trade balance in Germany’s favor to the tune of almost 4 billion, according to The New European.

Furthermore, the Turkish population in Germany amounts to over three million second and third-generation Turks, who are naturally all potential voters for any political party.

So it becomes obvious that the exploratory talks are being carried out for Turkey alone, so that Ankara has an alibi for continuing with its expansionist plans.

Merkel invites new US President to Berlin

On Monday, the German Chancellor invited U.S. President Joe Biden to visit Germany as soon as the Covid-19 pandemic allows.

Some Greek analysts believe that Merkel will likely ask the US President to be lenient on Turkey, after his comments on Ankara’s purchase of the Russian S-400 missiles and the turning of Hagia Sophia, the gem of Greek civilization in Asia Minor, into a mosque.

Given that former US president Donald Trump had significant business interests in Turkey, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been complacent the last several years.

This was also obvious by the stance taken by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, who has openly sided with Turkey on several occasions.

Unlike Trump, President Biden has often expressed his pro-Greek sentiments and criticized Turkey’s aggressive acts in the Eastern Mediterranean and the alteration of the status of Hagia Sophia.

Therefore, it remains to be seen whether Greece will have an ally against Turkey’s expansionism, now that the EU remains neutral, if not partial to Erdogan’s whims, at the expense of member states Greece and Cyprus.

As for the possibility of EU sanctions against Turkey — the best diplomatic tool available — it is time for the Greek government to face reality and seek other ways to deal with its unfriendly neighbor.

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