NATO, EU, US all in favor of Turkish-Greek talks

NATO, EU, US all in favor of Turkish-Greek talks

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s recent conversations with EU Council President Charles Michel and German Chancellor Angela Merkel focused on the future ties between Ankara and Brussels in light of the EU Council’s recent conclusions.

One of the common messages Erdoğan conveyed to both leaders was Turkey’s desire to open a new page in its ties with the European Union by capitalizing on the positive agenda outlined by the council at its summit on Dec. 10 and 11.

His second important message regarded Turkey’s readiness to resume exploratory talks with Greece with the aim of giving a chance to diplomatic means to resolve the countries’ problems in the Aegean and Mediterranean. He told Michel and Merkel that Greece had been using new excuses to avoid talks, thus obstructing diplomacy.

Turkey and Greece agreed to resume the exploratory talks in early August thanks to German mediation, but the initiative petered out after Greece signed a maritime delimitation agreement with Egypt. Germany’s renewed efforts on Turkish-Greek talks were hampered in October as well after Turkey dispatched the Oruç Reis exploration vessel to contested areas of the eastern Mediterranean.

Greece has made it clear that no talks will take place with Turkey unless the Oruç Reis’ seismic activities cease. As the Oruç Reis concluded its studies on Nov. 29 and is now back in Antalya’s port amid no indications that it will be sent back to the same area, Ankara is calling on Athens to accept the unconditional resumption of the exploratory talks.

Athens, however, doesn’t appear to have the same enthusiasm as Turkey for talks. In an interview with the Greek media on Dec. 18, Alternate Minister of Foreign Affairs Miltiadis Varvitsiotis noted that “we do not accept dialogue based on mere pretext.”

He clarified Athens’ position that “the withdrawal of the Oruç Reis from the southeastern Mediterranean does not suffice, on its own, as a basis for proceeding to exploratory talks.”

On Dec. 16, Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias also touched on the issue, urging Turkey “to stop the provocations” but without specifying what these provocative moves were.

“Now that the Oruç Reis is back in port and the flotilla of Turkish vessels is not cruising around the Southeastern Mediterranean, yes, it is obvious the situation is better, but we have to allow for a period of time. Why? Because we would like it to become clear that this is a choice made by Turkey, not just a flag of convenience, not just a limited-period choice, just to avoid sanctions from the European Union or heavier sanctions from the United States. If that becomes apparent, then Greece is always willing to talk. Greece, regardless of government, always believes in dialogue,” he was quoted as saying.

A period of time is surely needed for Greece to agree to return to the table for two main reasons. First, they want to see how Ankara’s dialogue with the Western world will develop in the aftermath of the imposition of sanctions by both Washington and Brussels.

Second, the government in Athens needs time to digest the failure of sanctioning Turkey with a harsher package of measures at the EU Council meeting. The resumption of exploratory talks immediately after the EU summit would be quite difficult for them to explain to the Greek public, which had been filled with unrealistic expectations about the stance the European Union would take against Turkey.

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis was right when he reportedly heralded to the Greek people in early December that Athens had successfully turned the Turkish-Greek conflict into a Turkey-EU row.

But as seen on Dec. 10 and 11, the European Union is composed of 27 countries with different interests and priorities, and they will hardly overlap with those of Greece when it comes to ties with Turkey.

Plus, many EU countries believe it’s time for Greece and Turkey to resume talks in a bid to stabilize the situation in the neighborhood. This view is also believed to be shared by the United States and NATO, as both have underlined there is no reason why the exploratory talks cannot be resumed.

Under these conditions, Greece’s efforts to delay the talks will not be constructive. Returning to the negotiation table at an appropriate time after the new year would work to the advantage of both sides and the entire region.