Talking for the sake of talking
With the 61st round of exploratory talks between Turkey and Greece starting on Monday - and finishing on the same day - there is an obvious intention by both sides to give the impression that they are making a genuine effort to deescalate tension and to restart the dialogue process.
Yet, when it comes to the agenda of the talks, they do not appear to speak the same language.
Greece repeatedly has insisted that it is only willing to discuss the issue of the delimitation of maritime zones. Turkey on the other hand has presented a long list of bilateral issues to be discussed starting from maritime boundaries, energy rights, airspace, demilitarization of certain Aegean islands, Turkish minority issues in western Thrace and so on. The attitude of Greece is “let us talk but only about one issue; the attitude of Ankara is “let us talk about everything once and for all.”
Greece wants a reset of the talks that were stopped in March 2016 after 14 years and 60 rounds of talks that reached nowhere. And more than that, we never learned what the process or content of those talks was. Turkey - as stated by Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Çavusoğlu - wants to discuss all that was discussed since 2002 and to check the documents that were used during those talks, for which by the way no minutes were taken.
So, why are they talking if they are so far apart, one would ask?
Actually, the general impression among Greek analysts is that with such a vast difference in approach “it is hard to be very optimistic” although others insist that Turkey being “squeezed” between the threat of a possible new series of sanctions by the EU in March and fearing possibly more sanctions by the new Biden administration, over the issue of the Russian S-400, has launched a “charm operation” towards the EU. In this, the normalization process with Greece is a part of it. Many Greeks are asking what would be the benefit for Greece to sit at the table with an “overdemanding” neighbor with whom as late as last July they almost went to war?
Maybe both sides are seeing something for themselves. Maybe that this is the right time either because one party thinks the other side is weaker so that they can get a better deal. Perhaps Turkey feels that before Greece proceeds with its multi-polar diplomacy developing its relations with regional players, for example in the Mediterranean, Ankara should push harder not to be out of the picture, to remain a major player and to promote its plan for a regional conference in the Mediterranean for fair sharing of hydrocarbon resources.
For both sides, the link with EU is crucial. They both use Brussels to get the most of it in order to strengthen their positions. NATO also is an important platform for the same reason but there the stakes for Turkey are higher due to the Russia factor.
Feb. 17 is an important date in the calendar of NATO. Its Strategic Plan 2030 will be discussed at the defense ministers' meeting and Turkey will be among the topics. President Joe Biden has already been invited by the secretary-general of the Alliance to attend the leaders’ summit, although the date has not been announced yet. The new U.S. administration will make its presence more felt in Europe from now on.
Lately, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been emphasizing often that the place of Turkey is in the EU and Turkey is a NATO member.
So, opening a dialogue with Greece before the next EU and NATO summits would be a good signal for Turkey’s commitment to the West. In other words, these exploratory talks which start on Monday may not produce anything spectacular in the beginning, but they may signal a new era in negotiations, by these two neighbors and maybe this is the right time for both to recalibrate their place in the region.