Turkey, Greece agree on multiple topics in İzmir meeting

Turkey, Greece agree on multiple topics in İzmir meeting

Turkey, Greece agree on multiple topics in İzmir meeting

Turkey's Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu (R) shakes hand with Greece's Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras (L) during a press conferrence on March 8, 2016 in Izmir. AFP Photo

The prime ministers of Turkey and Greece discussed and agreed on multiple topics during meetings held in Turkey’s Aegean coastal town of İzmir on March 8, hours after Turkey and the European Union agreed on a draft agreement to combat the refugee crisis and boost Turkey’s EU bid. 

Turkey and Greece also vowed close cooperation on a plan to return migrants rejected by Europe, laying aside historic differences in an agreement they hope will end the illegal flow of people crossing the Aegean Sea. 

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said the two countries had common stances on many topics, adding that they had reached a consensus to launch flights, ferry services and trains between Greece and Turkey, and to realize the Trans-Anatolian Pipeline (TANAP) project. 

Stating that Greece’s Thessaloniki was the port that opens to Eastern Europe, and İzmir was the hub for Asia and Anatolia, Davutoğlu said the link between these two cities was very important.

“Ferry services will start [between İzmir and Thessaloniki], God willing,” Doğan News Agency quoted Davutoğlu as saying, adding that Greek products coming to İzmir via this ferry line would reach Ankara and even the Caspian, as Turkey has already organized its hinterland. 

“From the same route it can go to the depths of Asia [and products] coming from Asia can go to Europe,” he said during a joint press conference with his Greek counterpart on March 8.

Davutoğlu said a high-speed train between Istanbul and Thessaloniki was also being planned. “We promise to remove the obstacles,” he said. 

The Turkish prime minister also said direct flights from Athens to Ankara were going to begin, while flights between Athens and İzmir would start if the parties agreed. 

“There needs to be more links. Tourism is an extraordinary opportunity,” he said. “We are determined to bring the two sides of the Aegean [together] in order to not separate ever again.”

Tsipras said talks were ongoing over the dispute between the two countries regarding the continental shelf and the “casus belli” approach to the issue needed to be left behind, as it reflected the perspective of bygone times. 

He added Greece supported Turkey’s EU membership, which would enhance regional peace and stability.
Tsipras said the readmission agreement reached as part of the EU-Turkey deal would help to reduce the “unbearable flow” of refugees into Europe. 

“[It] sends a clear message to migrants coming from third countries, rather than countries at war... that there is neither the political will [to allow their passage] nor the ability to cross to Europe,” Reuters quoted Tsipras as saying. 

“This is the reality we ought to sincerely convey to them in order to stop, to reduce, this unbearable flow for our countries,” he added. 

The neighboring prime ministers met a day after Ankara offered the EU to take back all irregular migrants who cross into Europe from Turkish soil in return for an agreement in principle on its demands for more money, faster EU membership talks and earlier visa-free travel. 

More than a million people fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East and beyond have flooded into the EU since early 2015, most making the perilous sea crossing from Turkey to Greece, then heading north through the Balkans to Germany. 

“The aim here is to discourage irregular migration and... to recognize those Syrians in our camps who the EU will accept - though we will not force any one to go against their will - via legal routes,” Davutoğlu said, adding there would be no extra financial burden on Turkey. 

“Europe will cover all costs of readmitting migrants from the Aegean, the readmission costs [including] returning to Turkey and to a third country, or their own country,” he said.