Turkish-Greek ties get new life but may take time to flourish

Turkish-Greek ties get new life but may take time to flourish

A rare in-person meeting between President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his Greek counterpart Kyriakos Mitsotakis earlier this week may help progress in ties between the two neighbors, which have a shared history marked with hostilities and amity at times. Experts say that the meeting and other steps are a good start but outstanding issues between Ankara and Athens can only be solved with the spirit of alliance and will likely take more time.

Yücel Acer, author, member of the Foundation for Political, Economic and Social Research (SETA), and an expert of international law currently teaching at the Yıldırım Beyazıt University in Ankara, says the positive atmosphere reigns in relations between the two countries. The Feb. 6 earthquakes in Türkiye were a turning point in an otherwise lukewarm and sometimes outright hostile tone in ties.

“Rhetoric on both sides was tough and talks were suspended. Türkiye’s warm rhetoric toward Greece after the earthquake and the visit by the Greek foreign minister changed this. Türkiye reduced its activities in the Aegean Sea that have angered Greece in the past and toned down the rhetoric,” Acer told Daily Sabah on Thursday. Both countries also had spring elections though the leaders of both secured another term.

Acer notes that this process was marked by less belligerent discourse from Turkish and Greek politicians. “Currently, a positive atmosphere prevails. There are still outstanding issues like a dispute over airspace, Greece arming the Aegean islands and a dispute over territorial waters. I don’t see a solution to these issues in the near future, except sides may start negotiations. These are deep-rooted problems,” he highlighted. Acer also underlined that although there is a positive environment, Greece and Türkiye did not change their stance on several issues, referring to Mitsotakis’ remarks at Parliament last week in which he stressed the dispute over the exclusive economic zone in the Mediterranean.

One thing gaining momentum in bilateral ties is the start of talks, according to Acer. “There have not been regular meetings between sides since last year, and they may resume now. Greece and Türkiye have to give priority to discussions on economic and political cooperation. There are other fields of cooperation such as fighting maritime pollution and irregular migration, as well as support for Türkiye’s European Union membership process but these opportunities are not used,” he said. He said Türkiye will likely expect Greece to support it in those issues once it resumed bilateral talks.

“Greece should support Türkiye in the latter’s relations with the European Union. It should also stop inviting the United States to pursue a tougher policy against Türkiye,” he said. Acer noted that the United States has pursued a balanced policy toward two neighboring countries, but it, unfortunately, favored Greece more recently.

“Türkiye certainly does not oppose any military cooperation between Greece and the United States, but it wants it to be reasonable. It does not want to be treated as only a country and not an ally of the United States regarding security and defense,” he said.

Fatih Fuat Tuncer, an international relations expert from Istanbul’s Gelişim University, says Turkish-Greek relations have always been unique, with their own dynamics, unlike Türkiye’s ties with other countries. “They had a fluctuating trend. In the past few years, they were tense. Greece’s positive stance after the earthquakes in Türkiye and election results in both countries presented a chance to turn a new page in relations. Before engaging in the renewal of relations, the two sides needed to express their intent and today, we see this from both Mitsotakis and Erdoğan. The resumption of the High-Level Cooperation Council between the two countries is a very positive development at this point. Obviously, solving all problems between two countries in the short run is not possible but keeping a way of consultations and diplomacy open will significantly reduce tensions between two countries,” he said.

Tuncer said the two countries would also need to convince their public on matters they can reconcile on and the public support is a must for improved relations.

He also says other countries should not be involved in resolving problems between Türkiye and Greece for issues that need resolution like the armament of islands and maritime disputes. “Türkiye and Greece should act as allies. These are issues exclusive to them. Issues regarding the Aegean islands and the Mediterranean are not between the EU and Türkiye. Other actors’ involvement in those issues with a biased approach make a resolution of those issues difficult.” On the dispute over islands, Tuncer stated that a “good neighborhood, rules of alliance and conditions in existing treaties” may help resolve the problem.

Tuncer referred to Mitsotakis’ recent statements that Athens would continue its defense expenditures but not against Türkiye; rather, in line with the defense needs of NATO. “Greece does not have a defense capacity as big as Türkiye and it is not expected that it can surpass Türkiye any time soon. Türkiye significantly improved its defense industry,” he said. Tuncer also noted that the appointment of former Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias as the new defense minister of Greece was also important as this post was conventionally handed to hawkish politicians known for their anti-Turkish stance in the past.


Reference: https://www.dailysabah.com/politics/diplomacy/turkish-greek-ties-get-new-life-but-may-take-time-to-flourish

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