Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras meets again with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Ankara on Tuesday. Such meetings are always useful, as is bolstering the lines of communication between the two neighbors at every level. In this regard, the invitation extended last week by Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar to his recently appointed Greek counterpart Evangelos Apostolakis is also a positive development. Carrying its own special weight, the language of military men – the former is a general, the latter an admiral – sometimes proves more effective than that of politicians.
Circumstances today call for moderation and calm when it comes to the Aegean and Cyprus. This is no time for any major initiatives and even if the prime minister had such intentions – which could, under certain circumstances, be successful – neither he nor the country can afford any major moves.
So soon after the painful process of ratifying the Prespes agreement with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, which has divided Greek society and exacerbated relations between the political parties, the time is not ripe for any kind of turbulence in Greek-Turkish relations. Even those of us who are in favor of bold initiatives that take advantage of international law but are also based on realism know that this is not the time for action.
There is a danger that – enchanted by the support he got from the international community for the Prespes agreement – the prime minister might try to pursue a similar breakthrough on the issue of Greek-Turkish relations. But on that front the problems are much deeper, more serious and complex. At the same time, the international community – and Washington in particular – is sending mixed messages with respect to Turkey, and one can never be certain on which side, over what issues and to what extent pressure might be exerted.
Greece’s relationship with Turkey has an existential dimension. It’s not mainly an emotional matter, as is the name issue. This is why it is so important to have a modicum of consensus between the country’s main political forces, some cooperation and understanding, before an initiative is undertaken. And the current political climate makes this almost impossible, increasing the risk of a failed overture that could cause long-term damage.
Given these factors, the prime minister should focus on restarting exploratory talks with regard to the Aegean, and avoiding tensions, leaving any possible initiatives until after the general elections, when there will be more time for preparation and building consensus, and the overall climate will be more suitable.