22nd Jun 2021

Greek and Turkish ministers make friends in Athens

  • The last time Dendias and Çavuşoğlu met they publicly exchanged insults (Photo: u07ch)

Relations improved between Greece and Turkey at a high-level meeting in Athens on Monday (31 May), but the EU remains wary of Ankara.

Greece hoped for "gradual normalisation" of ties, even though it and Turkey sometimes held "different and, on certain serious issues, diametrically opposed positions," Greek foreign minister Nikos Dendias said after meeting his Turkish counterpart in the Greek capital.

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Turkey also wanted to "increase cooperation," Turkish foreign minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said.

Problems should be solved "on the basis of international law and shared interests", he added.

They launched more than 20 joint economic projects.

These ranged from education and health, to the energy, environment, tourism, transport, telecommunications, and shipping industry sectors.

The last time Dendias and Çavuşoğlu met, in Ankara in April, they exchanged insults on airspace violations and fake news.

The Nato allies have narrowly avoided a military confrontation over disputed maritime boundaries and oil and gas reserves in the Mediterranean Sea over the past year.

And the EU recently threatened to blacklist Turkish officials or even to strike at Turkey's tourism industry if things escalated.

At the same time, Çavuşoğlu's outreach comes amid a pro-EU turn by Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who also hosted top EU officials Charles Michel and Ursula von der Leyen in Ankara last month and who has praised Europe in recent speeches to ambassadors in his palace.

But for his part, Michel, the EU Council president, said he remained "cautious" of Erdoğan's intentions.

"In the past, we have observed that Turkey can take one step forward followed by two steps back. So we are not naive," Michel said in Greek newspaper I Kathimerini also on Monday.

"We are ready to use all the tools at our disposal to influence Turkey's behaviour," he added.

EU leaders recently offered to restart talks on customs perks and visa-free travel with Turkey, but these would only go ahead if Turkey mended its ways, Michel warned.

"We sent a very clear message: We are ready for a more positive agenda, but this is conditional, proportional, and reversible," he said.

"This means that it will only be implemented if there is progress in different areas - especially in Greek-Turkish relations, on the Cyprus settlement, on human rights. It will depend on Turkey's behaviour," the EU's most senior official said.

Cyprus is trying to resume reunification talks after more than 40 years of frozen conflict with Turkey.

Erdoğan launched a crackdown on his political opponents, crushing Turkish people's rights, after a failed coup in 2016.

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