Officials in Athens and Ankara are busy trying to lay the groundwork for a meeting, even a brief one, between Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on the sidelines of the NATO Summit on July 10.
The two leaders reportedly agreed to meet during a phone call on Monday made by Tsipras to Erdogan to congratulate him on his election victory on Sunday.
According to the PM’s office, during the call Tsipras stressed the need for the immediate release of two Greek soldiers who have been held without charge in Turkey since the beginning of March when they crossed the border during a routine patrol in bad weather.
Tsipras, his office said, underlined the importance of the issue for relations between the two countries.
New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis echoed the same sentiment in his congratulatory letter, telling Erdogan that if he wants to see an improvement in Greek-Turkish relations then he must release the two soldiers. President Prokopis Pavlopoulos also congratulated Erdogan.
The meeting between Tsipras and Erdogan, if it does indeed materialize, will come at a tense moment in bilateral relations, not just because of the two Greek soldiers, but also because of the eight Turkish servicemen that Ankara wants extradited to stand trial over their alleged role in the 2016 coup attempt in the neighboring country.
Ankara’s position on the matter was reiterated on Monday by Egemen Bagis, former minister for EU affairs and Turkey’s chief negotiator in accession talks with the European Union, who told Skai TV that Greece “must grab by the ears those terrorists dressed up as soldiers who fled the country and hand them over to Turkish justice.”
In their phone call Tsipras and Erdogan also discussed the cooperation between Athens and Ankara in the context of the EU-Turkey Joint Declaration on Refugees.
With Sunday’s informal EU summit on migration reaching no concrete decision, the issue remains a top priority for Athens, ahead of the European summit in Brussels on June 28-29.
Meanwhile Tsipras will meet in London on Tuesday with his British counterpart Theresa May and Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn.