Athens, Greece – Points which have introduced Greece and Turkey to the brink of conflict 5 occasions in as many many years can be off the agenda throughout Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s go to to Athens on Thursday.
The go to is an try and reset the connection with constructive agreements, Greek diplomats have instructed Al Jazeera.
“Maritime borders [and Cyprus] gained’t be mentioned,” mentioned a senior Greek diplomat. “There hasn’t been any preparation for that to occur.”
Greece and Turkey have been discussing 31 potential areas of cooperation since 2021. This so-called “constructive agenda” can be centre stage, overseas ministry officers instructed Al Jazeera, resulting in a couple of dozen agreements.
One accord will see the development of a brand new bridge over the Evros River in Thrace, which varieties the border between the 2 international locations. One other will promote pupil exchanges, an official mentioned on situation of anonymity.
Whereas undersea hydrocarbons have divided the 2 neighbours, different types of vitality may unite them. One accord will result in the development of a brand new electrical energy interconnector to commerce vitality.
Different agreements will promote joint initiatives in tourism, sport and amongst small companies.
“There was an intensification of talks within the final three months, which exhibits the mutual political will for issues to go effectively,” the official instructed Al Jazeera.
Some navy agreements had been additionally lined up.
“There can be a collection of agreements on confidence-building measures – for instance, not flying drones over warships whereas wargames are going down,” Angelos Syrigos, an MP with the ruling New Democracy celebration, instructed Al Jazeera.
“The climax can be a pact of friendship declaring our intention to resolve variations peacefully,” Syrigos mentioned.
“[Prime Minister] Kyriakos, my buddy, we gained’t threaten you in case you don’t threaten us,” Erdogan instructed Kathimerini newspaper in an interview printed on the eve of the go to. “Let’s strengthen the belief between our two international locations. Let’s improve bilateral cooperation in all areas,” Erdogan mentioned.
An settlement on irregular migration may be within the offing, Greece’s migration minister lately implied – one thing of specific curiosity to the European Union.
Refugee flows from Turkey to Greece fell by 40 % in October relative to September, and by an additional 30 % in November, the Greek migration ministry mentioned.
Overcoming previous unpleasantness
Erdogan’s final go to to Athens, in December 2017, was a catastrophe. He and then-Greek President Prokopis Pavlopoulos argued over the Lausanne Treaty of 1923, which set the borders between the 2 international locations.
Later, Erdogan and then-Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras traded accusations in regards to the division of Cyprus. Erdogan blamed the Greek facet for 2 failed rounds of talks to reunify the island in 2004 and 2017.
“The Greek Cypriots promised us that we might remedy the Cyprus drawback however that’s not what occurred,” mentioned Erdogan.
“This problem stays open as a result of 43 years in the past there was an unlawful invasion and occupation of the northern part of Cyprus,” replied Tsipras.
Cyprus has been divided between Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities after inter-communal clashes in 1964 and a Turkish invasion of the island 10 years later, following a Greek-inspired coup.
Issues received worse after the 2017 go to. The next 12 months, Turkey proclaimed its Blue Homeland coverage, claiming sovereign industrial rights to take advantage of undersea wealth beneath 462,000sq km (178,400sq miles) of the east Mediterranean, a lot of which Greece additionally claimed beneath worldwide maritime regulation.
In 2019 Turkey agreed to take advantage of a swathe of the east Mediterranean with Libya, additional encroaching on what Greece noticed as its personal maritime jurisdiction. The European Union denounced the memorandum as “unlawful” beneath worldwide regulation.
Shortly after, Greece unofficially warned Turkey that it might sink any Turkish survey ship trying to seek for undersea oil and fuel in what it thought-about its jurisdiction. Turkey known as Greece’s bluff the next January, permitting its ship Oruc Reis to conduct surveys for per week southeast of Rhodes.
Greece despatched a frigate to look at the Oruc Reis with out attacking it, however the next summer time the Oruc Reis returned, and the whole Hellenic Navy deployed throughout the Aegean inside hours in a state of heightened alert. Turkey’s navy did the identical. The standoff continued till August, when two frigates from opposing navies collided, and the US known as for detente.
Hydrocarbons weren’t the one supply of friction. Erdogan allowed asylum seekers to storm Greek borders in 2020 and disputed Greece’s sovereignty over its east Aegean Islands in 2021. And Turkey has a standing risk of conflict towards Greece if it ought to try to increase its territorial waters within the Aegean to 12 nautical miles, which Greece says is in keeping with worldwide regulation.
Earthquakes breach distrust
The turning level within the latest escalation was offered by two highly effective earthquakes that levelled Turkish cities in February, killing tens of hundreds.
Greece’s was the primary abroad search-and-rescue workforce to reach, and the 2 international locations’ overseas ministers made a present of friendship by touring the wreckage collectively. Turkish violations of Greek airspace within the Aegean stopped, allaying a relentless Greek criticism.
After elections in each international locations in Might and June, freshly mandated overseas ministers met in Ankara in September, paving the best way for Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and Erdogan to fulfill on the sidelines of the United Nations Normal Meeting a fortnight later. Greece’s Deputy Overseas Minister Kostas Frangogiannis and his Turkish counterpart met in October. So did the 2 ministries’ normal secretaries.
However Turkey’s excellent positions stay, and have led some to doubt the usefulness of Erdogan’s go to.
“Sure, airspace violations could have fallen off, no less than for now, however provocations haven’t,” former conservative Prime Minister Antonis Samaras lately mentioned in an interview. “I’m speaking in regards to the faits accomplis Turkey has put in place towards us, which proceed to use. Violations fell off in my day, too … however that didn’t forestall Turkey from escalating [tensions] later.”
The 2 sides aren’t ignoring the elephant within the room through the go to.
“We are going to go right into a dialogue about the whole lot else,” mentioned Syrigos, referring to sovereign maritime rights. “This dialogue gained’t occur now. There can be a dialogue now on the principles of the longer term dialogue.”
The bottom guidelines settlement ought to restart a high-level dialogue between the Greek and Turkish leaders inaugurated in early 2010 to resolve the 2 international locations’ variations over maritime borders. That is an try and recapture the spirit of that point.
“The airspace violations have stopped. The inflammatory rhetoric has stopped. So there’s a foundation to fulfill,” mentioned the senior diplomat.