Turkey, Greece smooth relations after Ankara spat

By: AFP      Published: 07:34 PM, 31 May, 2021
Turkey, Greece smooth relations after Ankara spat

Greece and Turkey on Monday smoothed over their most recent diplomatic spat by setting up a June meeting between their respective leaders, officials said.

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis will meet Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan during a NATO summit in Brussels on June 14, Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias said after holding talks with his Turkish counterpart in Athens.

The talks in Athens between Dendias and Mevlut Cavusoglu were designed to "attempt a procedure of preliminary understanding" and "gradually normalise" relations, Dendias said.

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 an upcoming EU summit expected to discuss Turkish relations in late June.

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 postwar treaties with Greece.

On Sunday, Cavusoglu's description of the Muslim minority living in northeastern Greece as "Turkish" while on a private visit to the area 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.

Relations also plunged last year during a face-off over energy deposits in the eastern Mediterranean Sea. 

Greece has also accused Turkey of orchestrating an attempted incursion by thousands of asylum seekers last year.

And Ankara's move last year to convert the revered Byzantine-era Hagia Sophia cathedral from a museum into a mosque also sparked fury from Athens.

Turkey has often claimed that Greece fails to protect the rights of its Muslim minority, many of whom are of Turkish descent and Turkish-speaking. 

Cavusoglu had also raised the issue with his Greek counterpart Nikos Dendias during a heated press conference in Ankara in April.

In turn, Dendias said Turkey was "violating" international law and Greece's sovereign rights, claiming that the Turkish airforce had conducted hundreds of illegal flights over Greek soil.

Athens and Ankara in January also revived informal talks on maritime zone differences, a process that had stalled since 2016, but without a breakthrough so far.