Turkish President Tayyip Recep Erdogan has cast a long shadow over Thursday’s meeting between the foreign ministers of Greece and Turkey, by threatening to invade Cyprus.
In a statement made a few hours before the meeting of Nikos Dendias and Mevlut Cavusoglu in Ankara, Erdogan claimed that Turkey has shown good will on the Cyprus issue and has withdrawn its ships for maintenance.
He then warned, however: “We will not allow the rights of northern Cyprus to be usurped. If necessary we will intervene. Our ships are ready to sail at the moment. If they need to take steps, they will. We do not avoid talks, as long as they know that they must respect Turkey.”
Erdogan also touched on Libya a few hours after Greece announced that it has agreed with the Arab country to hold talks for marking out their respective maritime zones in the Mediterranean.
“We in the eastern Mediterranean made our big leap with the agreement we made with Libya. On the issue of Libya, Turkey has shown its determination on both the issue of seismic surveys and drilling. We can also do seismic surveys and drillings there. Greece was annoyed because it does not have such ships. But Greece does not have rights in the region as we do,” the Turkish President said.
It is within this context that Greek Foreign Minister Dendias will travel to Ankara to meet with his Turkish counterpart Cavusoglu, the first visit of a high-ranking Greek minister to Turkey in more than two years.
The meeting also takes place in the shadow of recent tensions between the two NATO allies over Turkish provocations regarding exploration of natural resources in the eastern Mediterranean.
Greece is desperate to avoid renewed tensions this summer, as it gradually opens the country to tourism.
The Ministers will also pave the way for a future summit between their respective leaders – Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis.
When Greece and Turkey “were friends”
Accepting the invitation last month, Dendias said the talks would also seek common ground to resolve the “sole bilateral dispute” between the NATO allies.
“In other words,” he added, “the delimitation of the exclusive economic zone and continental shelf in the Aegean and the eastern Mediterranean.”
On the eve of the Ankara meeting, Dendias told the press he looked forward to his talks with his Turkish counterpart.
“I will meet my friend Mevlut Cavusoglu tomorrow. I believe we will have a pleasant meeting,” he said.
Just a few years ago, the Turkish Foreign Minister himself was full of praise for Greece. In a statement to Greek Reporter on the sidelines of the 2018 UN annual gathering in New York, Cavusoglu had said:
“We are neighbors. We are friends. It will be a very fruitful meeting,” he remarked referring to the meeting between President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and former Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras.
Relations between Greece and Turkey have deteriorated
Tensions flared over the summer of 2020 as Turkish research ships explored for oil and gas reserves in waters belonging to Greece and Cyprus.
The dispute led to a military standoff at sea as the two countries’ navies shadowed each other. At one point, a collision between Greek and Turkish warships heightened fears of an unintended escalation.
Ankara’s relations with the European Union also suffered and Brussels raised the prospect of sanctions in response to Turkey’s “provocative actions” against EU members Greece and Cyprus.
Since then, Turkey has stood down its hydrocarbon survey work in contested waters and two rounds of talks between less senior officials over maritime disputes have been held in Istanbul and Athens – the first such negotiations since 2016.
Although observers see the talks between Cavusoglu and Dendias as a significant development, they say there is little hope of a serious diplomatic breakthrough on the issues that separate the countries.
“The differences between Turkey and Greece are intricate and intractable,” said Eyup Ersoy, a faculty member at Ahi Evran University’s international relations department in Turkey.
“Therefore, under current conditions, an overall resolution of these differences is impractical. The prudent approach is to reach a mutually acceptable modus vivendi based on common interests.”