Greece nix dialogue with Turkey, spoils Cyprus bid

Greece nix dialogue with Turkey, spoils Cyprus bid

In my quarter-century-long career as a diplomatic correspondent and columnist, I have witnessed dozens of meetings and press conferences between Turkish and Greek foreign ministers and prime ministers. For obvious reasons, none were easy or smooth events.

Both Turkish and Greek officials have always been very careful in their language, although while openly defending their positions about numerous contentious issues and rooted problems between the two countries.

These meetings were tense but not theatrical. That includes many decent events between Turkish ministers, such as İsmail Cem, Abdullah Gül and Ahmet Davutoğlu, with Greek ministers, such as Yorgo Papandreou, Petros Molyviatis and Dora Bakoyannis.

We have two exceptions, though: Theorodos Pangalos, the Greek foreign minister of the late 1990s, and incumbent Minister Nikos Dendias.

This lengthy introduction was necessary to highlight better the extent of the deterioration the Greek foreign minister has caused in bilateral relations during his joint press conference with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu. Besides, it was also necessary to reveal the true strategy followed by the Greek government in the context of the Turkish-Greek reconciliation process.

Before elaborating on this uncompromising Greek strategy, let’s first mention what happened on April 15, the day Dendias paid his first official visit to the Turkish capital Ankara as a continuation of two rounds of exploratory talks in January and March.

Dendias broke deal his team made with Turkish side

Ankara has attached great importance to Dendias’ visit as an opportunity to mend the ties after a long period of tension. Hours before the start of Dendias’ visit, Çavuşoğlu, in a televised interview, conveyed very positive messages on ties with Greece while underscoring the need for the continued dialogue between the two neighbors.

Plus, Dendias was received by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan - who rarely meets the visiting top diplomats - in a bid to show the importance the head of the nation personally attaches to this process. According to the diplomatic sources, both Erdoğan-Dendias and Çavuşoğlu-Dendias meetings were held in a positive mood, and despite the differences, the will to work on the positive agenda was emphasized.

Same sources have also informed that the Greek delegation has notified the Turkish diplomats that Dendias would not use expressions that would cause controversy during the joint press conference and that they expected a similar approach from the Turkish side. In response, the Turkish side said they had no other intention.

Accordingly, Çavuşoğlu’s initial statements were very moderate and positive as he was keen on not complicating the talks with his counterpart. Dendias, however, broke the deal his delegation made with their Turkish counterparts. He deliberately chose to adopt a very aggressive mood as he listed his accusations against Turkey, one after another, over the developments in the Aegean Sea, Mediterranean, migration, or minorities.

Upon this, Çavuşoğlu conveyed the necessary responses to him with diplomatic courtesy.

Three main pillars of Greek strategy

This premeditated verbal belligerence by Dendias -- reportedly upon the instructions of Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis - surfaces Athens’ real strategy on ties with Turkey, particularly in the context of the eastern Mediterranean dispute. One can cite three immediate objectives of Greek diplomacy.

Firstly, it shows once again that Athens is not willing to launch a sincere and genuine bilateral dialogue with Turkey. Instead of doing this, it is hoping to continue to benefit from Turkey’s isolation and poor relationship with its Western allies. It seems Greece believes it’s not the right time to reconcile with Turkey. It is still trying to push both the United States and the European Union to take punitive measures against Turkey. That’s why Dendias sought to practically kill the Ankara-Athens dialogue.

The second and in relation with the first, Greece has shown that it is not ready to abandon its policy of turning its bilateral disputes with Turkey into a Turkey-EU crisis. What else can explain Dendias’ attempt to repeat EU’s potential sanctions on Turkey during his visit to Ankara where he was supposed to build a mutual understanding for better bilateral ties?

The third is more explosive because Dendias’ move to derail the Ankara-Athens dialogue comes 10 days before the key U.N.-led meetings on the Cyprus question. Talks in Geneva between April 27 and 29 will not only show whether a new window of opportunity for a negotiated solution in the island can be found but also will have a strong impact on Turkey’s relationship with the EU and the United States.

Neither Greece nor Greek Cyprus has ever been willing to make a peace deal on the island. This time, they will probably try to take the advantage of the Turkish side’s insistence on a two-state solution instead of the U.N. parameters for a bizonal, bicommunal federation. It will be of no surprise to hear more accusations and aggressive statements from both Athens and Nicosia in the coming days.

Greece made clear that its long-term strategy was based on a continued tension between Turkey and the West and that it would use all the possible bilateral and multilateral platforms to this end.

Serkan Demirtaş,