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Greece and Turkey Worlds Apart as Foreign Ministers Argue in Public

Greece Turkey
Nikos Dendias and Mevlut Cavusoglu during their talks in Ankara on Thursday. Credit: Twitter/Nikos Dendias

The foreign ministers of Greece and Turkey argued in front of cameras during a joint press conference following their meeting in Ankara on Thursday.

Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias and his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu were at odds over a number of issues, despite hopes that their meeting could open an opportunity to lessen tensions over maritime boundaries and energy exploration rights in the Eastern Mediterranean.

Dendias blasted Turkey on its threats to go to war if Greece extends its territorial waters in the Aegean, which is in accordance with international law.

Eastern Mediterranean Summit proposed by Erdogan

In addition, he said that the Turkish-Libya maritime agreement of 2019 is illegal and he accused Turkey of using migrants as a weapon against Greece and Europe.

Dendias also spoke openly of the  “constant” Turkish violations of Greek airspace that have occurred repeatedly over the past year and a half, and brought up the Law of the Sea, warning his counterpart that his country’s actions in the Aegean and the Eastern Mediterranean are putting at risk Turkey’s aspirations of joining the EU.

“If this is what Turkey wants – and I certainly hope that it does – then it must start respecting the Law of the Sea,” Dendias declared, mentioning the ever-present threat that additional sanctions on Turkey might still be forthcoming.

Dendias maintains Turkey must act in accordance with international law

Continuing the unusually blunt interchange, the Turkish Foreign Minister was likewise frank in his comments, admitting that “differences remain” between Turkey and Greece over uses involving the Aegean and gas and oil exploration in the Eastern Mediterranean. For his part, he retorted that Turkey’s seismic surveys in its searches for energy resources were “entirely legal.”

The Greek FM stressed that the improvement of bilateral relations must be based on international law, which Turkey often disregards.

Cavusoglu hit back by saying that his counterpart made unacceptable accusations against Turkey by claiming that Turkey violates Greek sovereignty — “that is unacceptable,” he said.

He argued that although Turkey recognizes its Greek minority as “Greek Orthodox,” Greece fails to recognize Turkic Muslims as Turkic Muslims.

Cavusoglu also reiterated his country’s demands that several Greek islands in the Aegean be demilitarized, retorting to Dendias after the Greek FM brought up violations of the Treaty of Lausanne that “you only bring up what suits you.”

However, several positive notes emerged in the press conference, as Dendias stated “There is significant scope for an improvement in bilateral ties.

“Greece and Turkey are destined to live together in a region with many complex problems,” he admitted, noting that there can be no progress unless there is a “de-escalation of incendiary actions and comments.”

“I know we have a long road ahead, but I hope that today we can take a step forward,” Dendias then stated, inviting his Turkish counterpart to the Greek capital and suggesting that there might be a meeting between Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Earlier, Dendias had met with Erdogan for about an hour at the Presidential Palace in Ankara. At that time, Erdogan proposed a summit on the Eastern Mediterranean. However, no statements were made after that meeting.

Greece Turkey
Credit: Twitter/Nikos Dendias

The visit of Dendias to Turkey is the first between the two nations after tensions rose to a fever pitch in 2020 over maritime boundaries and energy exploration rights in the Eastern Mediterranean, leading to a military buildup that featured warships from the two countries facing off.

Before the meetings in the Turkish capital, Dendias has said that he was not over-optimistic, but at least the two countries must be able to speak, in the context of logic and law.

After the meeting, Dendias posted a Tweet showing members of the respective Turkish and Greek delegations speaking together as part of expanded talks addressing that he called “bilateral and EU-Turkey relations, as well as regional and international issues.”

Need for Greece – Turkey dialogue

“Because if we are to speak in the context of arbitrariness, we do not need to speak,” the Foreign Minister stressed.

At the same time, he has stated in the past that Greece is not afraid of dialogue and that it is in favor of a constructive dialogue based on fundamental principles, such as international law.

Cavusoglu told Turkish TV that the two men will discuss all disagreements, emphasizing the importance of maintaining an open dialogue.

“Of course, it is not possible to resolve all of the issues in one meeting – or in multiple meetings – but at least a positive atmosphere (is being) created and we can work out the ways in which we can resolve the existing problems.

“There are issues on which we disagree with Greece. We have to discuss these in an open and honest manner,” he added.

Dendias’ visit to Ankara is the first visit of a high-ranking Greek minister to Turkey in more than two years.

Yet recently, the two NATO allies have adopted a more conciliatory tone and have been seeking dialogue.

Turkish and Greek diplomats have since met in Istanbul and Athens, resuming a series of meetings designed to build trust between the historic regional rivals. The exploratory talks came after a five-year hiatus.

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