No harm in keeping on talking

No harm in keeping on talking

I was looking forward to listening to President Erdoğan’s speech yesterday to his parliamentary group. Except for his short statement in Istanbul last Friday after prayers, he had not spoken in detail about the “adventurous” press conference of the foreign ministers of Turkey and Greece, which in fact took place in the Presidential Palace. And more than that, after he had had a cordial and friendly meeting - in his words - with the Greek Foreign Minister Niko Dendias.

Admittedly, it was Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu who took over the task to explain in detail about the meeting with Greece’s foreign minister who - as we have been told several times by now- is a “good friend” of Mr. Çavuşoğlu for almost two decades. In his long interview with Turkish TV channel Habertürk, the Turkish foreign minister blamed his Greek counterpart for “not being straight and honest.” He accused the Greek side of not observing the assurances they gave beforehand that they would not say something that would cause an obvious confrontation during the joint press conference. Çavuşoğlu underlined that such an attitude undermined the progress of bilateral relations.

That is what one would have expected for him to say, perhaps given the long “outburst” of Greek Foreign Minister Niko Dendias, who numbered one by one all the outstanding bilateral issues, accusing Turkey of breaking the rules and not abiding by the EU acquis. But one week is a long time in politics, let alone in foreign policy.

During his interview with channel Habertürk, Çavuşoğlu made sure that the disappointing picture he drew referring to that joint press conference was toned down with expressions like “we both expressed our differences and we discussed what we can do in the future,” or “we certainly cannot solve our problems in one or two meetings. We agreed to start from the easy issues and work slowly on the difficult ones. Despite all, we are ready to talk without preconditions about issues with easier solutions.”

There was also a personal reference by Çavuşoğlu on the “close relations of the Mitsotakis’ family with President Erdoğan,” specifically about the Greek prime minister’s sister, Dora Bakoyiannis, a former foreign minister and a long-serving member of the Greek Parliament. “The former foreign minister, Mrs. Bakoyiannis, is our friend,” Çavuşoğlu told the three interviewing journalists.

Besides making an obvious effort to tone down the negative impact of the joint press conference, Çavuşoğlu gave us some concrete information, too. He revealed that the two sides agreed on a road map of their contacts, saying, “Mr. Dendias will invite me to Athens.” He even revealed about a leaders’ meeting, saying, “After our meeting, we will arrange for a meeting between our president with the Greek Prime Minister Mitsotakis. Our president has said, ‘I am always ready to meet with Prime Minister Mitsotakis.’”

So, there you were. Çavuşoğlu assured that “despite everything,” the framework of the exploratory talks/consultative negotiations remained intact and would continue as planned, at least until the June EU Summit. Turkey is determined to appear as the side that wants dialogue with Greece as Brussels wishes and refrain from any provocative rhetoric and actions.

President Erdoğan’s statement to his parliamentary group, one day after Çavuşoğlu’s interview, about the Çavuşoğlu-Dendias press conference was characteristically short and carefully phrased.

“I would like to thank our foreign minister for the answers he gave in his meeting with the Greek foreign minister. We will never bow our head; we will continue to stand up. As a nation that has never bowed, our independence is our priority,” he said during a speech that was dominated by domestic agenda. The message was that we continue to talk with Greece as planned.

However, things are not easy. There is a disproportionate difference in the way the two sides see their differences. Greece cites only two, while Turkey has a long list, which gets longer every day. A heated blame game has started in Greece against politicians who were in charge of the country’s policies towards Turkey for the last four decades. Since the return of Greece to democratic rule in 1975, nine prime ministers headed different governments from socialist to center-right ideological lines. None of them managed to solve the problems with Turkey. Although, they tried to a larger or lesser degree.

I am sure many people in both countries wonder who is gaining by maintaining the same “keep-talking” framework but not actually arriving to an end. As a Greek commentator wrote, “We are watching the same film for forty-three years.” Seriously, we are all exhausted.

Ariana Ferentinou, Diplomacy,