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Greece, Turkey, Plot New Path With Friendship Declaration

New friendship declaration signed in Athens suggests both countries – bitter foes in the past – have opted for dialogue at a time of acute geopolitical turbulence.

After Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan met Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis on Thursday in Athens, the two countries – historic foes – signed a new declaration of friendship and good neighbourliness.

The two leaders’ meeting was the fifth to take place within the framework of the Greece-Turkey Cooperation Council; the first was held in May 2010, followed by three more rounds in 2013, 2014, and 2016. It followed years of turbulence in Greek-Turkish relations due to several disagreements.

“We are neighbouring countries that share the same sea; it is quite natural for two countries to have problems as two siblings. We want to make the Aegean a sea of peace. There is no problem so big that it cannot be solved,” Erdogan said at the joint press conference.

Erdogan, who last visited Greece in 2017, expressed satisfaction at being in Greece, thanking Mitsotakis for the kind welcome.

According to the Greek media, the new declaration is a text of non-binding principles and can open a new path in Greek-Turkish relations.

Erdogan and Mitsotakis discussed new or upgraded agreements on electricity, trade, small and medium-sized enterprises, education, sports, technology, tourism and a general tightening of economic relations.

The two leaders also agreed to promote mutual understanding and exchange of best practices in agriculture, research and innovation, cooperation between young scientists and strengthening the export and investment environment in both countries

Greece has meanwhile secured the approval of the European Commission to activate the possibility for Turkish citizens and their families to visit Greek islands year round for seven or ten days.

There was no discussion of the burning issue of the delimitation of the continental shelf and Greece’s Exclusive Economic Zone, EEZ, in the Aegean and Eastern Mediterranean, however. According to Mitsotakis, this will be raised at the next political dialogue.

“The next phase of the political dialogue … can be an approach for the delimitation of the continental shelf and the EEZ in the Aegean and the Eastern Mediterranean, which, according to Greece, constitutes the only dispute that could be brought before an international jurisdiction with … International Law and especially the Law of the Sea the safest navigator in settlement of international disputes,” the Greek PM underlined.

Mitsotakis also clarified Greece’s views on the Cyprus issue.

The declaration signed by the two leaders confirmed their will to develop relations.

“We feel satisfied to see the projects’ results in the 2021 joint action plan framework. In the meeting with Mr Mitsotakis, we agreed to increase our bilateral trade from 5 billion to 10 billion dollars. We emphasized the importance of transport projects, such as constructing a second bridge at the Ipsala-Kipon station,” Erdogan said.

The Turkish President made special reference to the Turkish minority in Greece, specifically in Thrace. It is a contentious issue for Athens, which only recognises the religious status of this minority.

“Our wish is to solve common problems. The Turkish minority in Greece and the Greek community in Turkey are structural components of our human and cultural wealth,” Erdogan said.

Mitsotakis insisted Greece is doing its best to secure the rights of the Muslim minority in Thrace, which the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne defines. But Erdogan did not comment on Mitsotakis’s words and kept silent.

Traditional disputes over Cyprus and the Aegean Sea have been escalated with new challenges, including refugee waves and the distribution of energy riches in the East Med.

The two governments, which have both faced domestic political crises, have often used one another in their election campaigns for their populist rhetoric.

However, after both governments were re-elected in 2023, Mitsotakis for another four years and Erdogan for five, and amid several international crises, including the Israel-Hamas war and Russia’s war in Ukraine, the two sides have opted for dialogue rather than confrontation.

With many migrants and refugees crossing Turkey and Greece en route to Western Europe, discussions are reportedly underway to exchange coast guard officials in order to create an open line of communication.

However, experts also warned BIRN that Greek-Turkish relationship remais on “thin ice”

Despite both sides being interested in stability in a time of geopolitical turbulence, the Turkish local elections in March 2024 may upset relations, given Erdogan’s tendency to lash out at nearby states during campaigning.

Source : Balkan Insight