Next month could prove pivotal for Greek-Turkish relations as a series of contentious issues are expected to come the fore, including the possibility of a resumption of the Cyprus peace talks and Ankara’s plans to drill for gas in the Eastern Mediterranean.
Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias will most likely receive United Nations special envoy for Cyprus Jane Holl Lute in Athens on September 11 – with the UN keen to restart talks to reunify the island after their acrimonious collapse last year. More specifically, the UN would like to see talks resume before US energy giant ExxonMobil begins drilling for gas in Block 10 of Cyprus’s exclusive economic zone.
The release last week of two Greek soldiers detained in Turkey since March has indeed raised expectations that Greek-Turkish relations could be put on a stronger footing.
According to officials from both countries, the release of the two soldiers was in large part due to the fact that lines of communication between Athens and Ankara remained open notwithstanding the recent spike in Aegean tensions.
However, the release of Angelos Mitretodis and Dimitris Kouklatzis is also seen as a consequence of the serious crisis in Turkish-American relations and a bid by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to smooth out relations with the European Union. And it is not lost on Greek officials that the decision to release the soldiers, who did essentially did nothing wrong, was a goodwill gesture with no political cost at home.
What appears to be certain is that regardless of how Turkish-American relations play out, ties between Athens and Washington are set to tighten. Tellingly, the Thessaloniki International Fair in September will be dedicated to the US, while Washington has also shown a keen interest in boosting military cooperation.