Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias was received by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in the capital Ankara Thursday as both countries seek a path toward dialogue following a tumultuous year marred by conflicts over the Eastern Mediterranean.
Following the meeting with Erdoğan, Dendias and Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu are expected to discuss a series of disagreements that have been plaguing the bilateral relations between the two countries.
The visit is the first between the two nations after tensions rose high 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.
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.
The two NATO allies have been at odds over decades-old issues including the extent of air and maritime boundaries in the Aegean Sea and the future of the divided island of Cyprus. Turkey and the Turkish Cypriots ruled out discussing a federal system to reunify the island, insisting that a two-state accord is the only way forward.
Turkey has also been irked by Greece’s militarization of islands close to the Turkish mainland.
“We are prepared to discuss all of our issues with Greece,” Çavuşoğlu told NTV television on Thursday. “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.
Turkey, which has the longest continental coastline in the Eastern Mediterranean, has rejected maritime boundary claims made by European Union members Greece and the Greek Cypriot administration, stressing that these excessive claims violate the sovereign rights of both Turkey and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC). Both sides cite a range of decades-old treaties and international agreements to support their conflicting territorial claims.
Turkish leaders have repeatedly stressed that Ankara is in favor of resolving outstanding problems in the region through international law, good neighborly relations, dialogue and negotiations. Instead of opting to solve problems with Ankara through dialogue, Athens has, on several occasions, refused to sit at the negotiation table and opted to rally Brussels to take a tougher stance against Turkey.
A 2019 maritime demarcation deal between Ankara and Libya's Tripoli-based Government of National Accord has also infuriated Greece, which says the accord is illegal. Athens has called for the agreement to be annulled, but both Ankara and Libya's new Government of National Unity have pledged commitment to it.
On Wednesday, Greece said it had agreed with Libya to hold talks on marking out their maritime zones in the Mediterranean, after a meeting with the president of the Libyan Presidential Council, Mohamed Menfi.
Asked about the development, Çavuşoğlu said Libya could hold talks on maritime demarcation with any country, adding this was not a risk to the accord between Ankara and Tripoli.
Turkey and Greece have also traded accusations over unauthorized migration. The Turkish coast guard, as well as numerous refugee rights organizations and aid groups, have accused the Greek coast guard of conducting pushbacks – illegal summary deportations – by returning their boats to Turkey without allowing them to apply for asylum in Greece.
Greece, for its part, denies it carries out pushbacks and accuses Turkey of failing to crack down on migrant smugglers operating from its shores.
The dispute with Athens also strained Ankara’s relations with the European Union as a whole.
Turkey-EU relations are marked by disputes on several issues, including the Eastern Mediterranean tensions, Turkey's role in Syria, the migrant crisis and the stalemate in Turkey's accession process to the bloc. During a meeting in Brussels on Dec. 10, EU leaders decided to draw up a list of Turkish targets to sanction.
But since then, the rhetoric on all sides has mellowed dramatically as Turkey and the bloc voiced their intent to "turn a new page." Turkey has recently reiterated that it is part of the bloc and sees its future in the EU, underlining that it will continue efforts toward full EU membership.
Turkish officials have also said that they hope for progress in 2021 and expect the bloc to take definitive action to this end. Most recently, the EU in January decided to hold off on potentially sanctioning Turkey thanks to positive developments made during a meeting with the bloc's foreign ministers.
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