Turkey-Greece political dialogue to start after exploratory talks

Turkey-Greece political dialogue to start after exploratory talks

The days to come will feature important meetings between Turkey and Greece. First, the two countries’ military representatives will resume de-confliction talks at NATO after a two-month break. More importantly, their exploratory talks will resume with a 61st round on Jan. 25 in Istanbul.

These two technical mechanisms are devoted to both mitigating the risks of an armed conflict in the Aegean and Mediterranean and seeking ways how to resolve the existing problems in those regions.

Although Ankara and Athens have a completely different perspective concerning the content of the exploratory talks, their joint decision to resume them after a five-year hiatus speaks for itself. The meeting in Istanbul will provide an important opportunity for the two sides to make a general evaluation of the issues discussed in the 60 rounds since 2004.

It’s no secret that Greece has qualms about these talks as it insists that maritime delimitation is the only problem between the two countries in the Aegean. Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, though, has made it clear that the talks will also include Greek claims about 10-mile airspace, the militarization of some Greek islands and search and rescue areas.

“This will be the 61st meeting. Whatever issues were discussed in 60 meetings will be discussed in the 61st meeting. So, it is not just the maritime delimitation issue,” Çavuşoğlu said. “But if they say they do not want to discuss these matters, then holding exploratory talks will have no meaning,” he urged Greece ahead of the talks.
Given the fact that the United States, the European Union and prominent NATO countries like the United Kingdom, France and Germany have welcomed and strongly supported the start of the Turkish-Greek talks, it will be difficult for Greece to leave the table just because it does not agree about its scope.

Naturally, these talks between senior civilian and military officials should be intertwined with a government-to-government dialogue so they come to fruition. There are preparations to this end, according to Foreign Minister Çavuşoğlu, who has cited Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama’s initiative to bring the two foreign ministers together in Tirana.

“I told Edi Rama that I am ready to meet with [Greek Foreign Minister] Nikos [Dendias] whenever he feels ready to meet. The ball is now in their court. I am told that the Greek side prefers a meeting after the exploratory talks,” Çavuşoğlu said.

A meeting between the two foreign ministers is certainly needed to plan future political consultations and normalize the relationship. It would also help the two parties arrange a meeting between President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis as part of the High-Level Cooperation Council which is to take place in Thessaloniki.

Speaking to reporters on Jan. 15, Erdoğan himself voiced his readiness to meet Mitsotakis. He also expressed his willingness to meet his Greek counterpart during a phone conversation with the president of the EU Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, earlier in January. “I always want to meet the Greek prime minister. It’s not a problem for me. When conditions mature, first our friends [foreign ministers] meet and then we meet,” he told von der Leyen on the phone.

Having been disappointed with the EU Council decisions last month that did not endorse the sanctions on Ankara that Athens has long been pressing for, the Greek government surely needs time to prepare the Greek public for new engagement with its Turkish counterpart. According to Greek media, Mitsotakis is not ruling out a meeting with Erdoğan but, at the same time, he does not want to be portrayed as too enthusiastic for that.

As mentioned above, Greece will first wait for the conclusion of the exploratory talks on Jan. 25. Second, it will also be looking at how the Turkey-EU summit concludes. In the meantime, it will continue its pressure on the bloc to at least expand the scope of restrictive measures against the Turkish officials responsible for the drilling activities in the eastern Mediterranean.

The hesitation Greece has about adopting a new understanding in ties with Turkey is understandable, but only to some extent. The current state of play describes a fast-track normalization of ties between Ankara and Brussels as well as between Turkey and key prominent European nations, such as France. This new climate will surely benefit all parties in Europe and the wider region.

It’s of vital importance to Turkey and Greece that they develop a new political framework and continue their dialogue to avoid dangerous and explosive conflicts.