Ankara and Athens should give an ear to Papandreou
One important success concerning the execution of Turkey and Greece’s 19 years of exploratory talks is the strictly imposed media blackout. Both sides have always been very cautious in not leaking the issues discussed in the closed-door meetings to mitigate public pressure on the diplomats.
The same happened on Jan. 25 as the two countries’ delegations met for the 61st round of exploratory meetings with the task of resolving their deep differences concerning the Aegean Sea. According to Turkish diplomatic sources, the two sides agreed to continue talks and hold the 62nd round in Athens.
One interesting detail was the participation of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s chief foreign policy advisor and spokesman, İbrahim Kalın. It seems his attendance was a last-minute decision taken at a meeting organized by Erdoğan late on Jan. 23 with the participation of the defense and foreign ministers, as well as high-ranking Navy officers.
For international observers, Kalın’s participation was a positive sign as it illustrated the importance Ankara has attached to the resumption of direct talks between Turkey and Greece. They are also happy that Turkey and Greece will continue the process with the de-conflicting mechanism at NATO.
The United States and the European Union also welcomed the resumption of talks in separate statements late Jan. 25, with former State Department spokesman Ned Price also noting how his government welcomed “the commitment of both governments to this process.” He added that “we support all efforts to reduce tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean.”
The European Union’s Josep Borrell, the high representative for security and foreign policy, as well as German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, also praised Turkey and Greece for starting the talks.
At this point, it’s crucial for Ankara and Athens to engage in the process in a more committed way. For that, they must lend an ear to those who gained a lot of experience in managing these talks in the past, such as former Greek Prime Minister and Foreign Minister George Papandreou.
In an interview with the private broadcaster NTV, Papandreou explained that the two countries were very close to announcing their agreement to go to the International Court of Justice for the resolution of their maritime boundaries.
He urged both countries to take steps to maintain mutual trust and envision how Turkish-Greek cooperation would yield important results in the entire region.
“We should be able to show that we can turn out to be a force for peace and cooperation in our region when we work together. But if we don’t work, then we’ll become part of much more complicated problems. Which one will we choose?” Papandreou asked. “I think we should take the side of international law. Diplomacy should not be militarized, and unilateral moves should be avoided. When we do this, not only our countries, but the people of the entire Mediterranean and EU will be strengthened.”
The problems are deep and difficult to resolve. But as Papandreou rightly underlines, things could turn out to be much more dangerous and explosive if Turkey and Greece fail to address their problems in a direct way.
Ultimately, the technical talks must be backed up by the two sides’ politicians with a new boost in government-to-government talks.