OP/ED: Greek-Turkish relations, retrogression or a fresh start?

OP/ED: Greek-Turkish relations, retrogression or a fresh start?

The ‘Greek-Turkish dialogue and open channels of communication’ fan club must have experienced an unpleasant surprise during yesterday’s joint press conference between Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and his Greek counterpart Nikos Dendias.

The way the press conference unfolded, with the two Ministers playing the blame-game, could be assessed any way but positively, although the previous meetings both with the Turkish President and the one-on-one meeting were assessed by the actors involved as very positive.

Nothing foretold what would follow after host Mevlut Cavusoglu stated his positions in the joint press conference. With vitriolic rhetoric and throwing diplomacy out of the window, Nikos Dendias listed on camera every issue Turkey has been trying to put on the dialogue table to resolve bilateral disputes.

The Greek Foreign Minister raised the issues that were at the center of his talks with his Turkish counterpart, and obviously with President Erdogan. Issues that the Turkish side constantly raises in its discussions with Greek officials and which are rejected by Greece, who considers that the only bilateral difference lies in the demarcation of the EEZ/Continental Shelf.

Yesterday’s heated press conference was rather reminiscent of an incident that took place between former President of the Hellenic Republic Prokopis Pavlopoulos and Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Athens in December 2017, who broke protocol and engaged in a public back-and-forth debate. Fortunately, the joint statements of Alexis Tsipras and the Turkish President eased tensions before these boiled over even before the Turkish President had the chance to kick off his first visit in 65 years. For those who don’t recall, the Greek Prime Minister had also raised all the issues surrounding Turkey’s delinquent behavior against Greece.

Yet what is striking are the causes of yesterday’s tension during the joint Cavusoglu-Dendias press conference.

After 17 months, a Greek-Turkish high-level meeting finally took place. It was an attempt to find common ground in order to alleviate tensions that have prevailed between the two countries in the Aegean, the Mediterranean and Evros.

Was the accumulated tension the cause of this public controversy? Possibly, but it does not make sense for one to publicly dynamite direct dialogue whilst claiming they seek its resumption. Whatever your positions and objections are, you address your interlocutor directly, if you wish, in order to pick up the same pace.

The disclosure of well-known issues and public controversy generates more tension, compromises trust between the interlocutors and creates, rather than resolves, differences.

Leaks from diplomatic sources, immediately after the joint interview, that the Greek Foreign Minister’s response to his Turkish counterpart’s provocations were made at the urging of the Greek Prime Minister, are rather cloudy.

Why did this have to be leaked? It was known that Nikos Dendias had collaborated with Kyriakos Mitsotakis for the visit to Turkey and there had been a conversation between the two men during Dendias’ meetings with Erdogan and Cavusoglu.

What was this leak trying to prevent? Maybe for the Maximos Mansion HQs to take the credit for Dendias’ communication “success”? Or maybe save face in the light of allegations that Dendias followed the Karamanlis-Pavlopoulos line in Greek-Turkish relations while in Ankara instead of the Mitsotakis line? Finally, did Nikos Dendias possibly make a leadership appearance amid a growing feeling that Mitsotakis is seeing his last days in the party’s leadership?

It is too early to draw conclusions and answer these questions. However, one cannot practice diplomacy with eyes on the local crowd for partisan or personal gains.

If the Greek Foreign Minister felt he was provoked by his Turkish counterpart, then his response was solid. He had to do it. But did he do the same before the EU institutions, when Euro-Turkish relations were being discussed? Has he strengthened Greece’s diplomatic capital in the face of Turkey’s provocations in the international stratum, or is he just causing a commotion to hide inaction? Why hadn’t he reacted to Turkey’s provocations up until now and decided to do so in Ankara?

Yesterday was an opportunity for the resumption of Greek-Turkish relations, after a period of tensions and closed channels of communication. This is why Nikos Dendias went to Ankara, emphasizing the positive agenda and economic cooperation, as he said and as diplomatic and government circles adamantly claimed with leaks the day after his visit. It remains to be seen whether yesterday’s visit constituted a retrogression or a fresh start on a new basis in Greek-Turkish relations. /ibna