In Ankara on Tuesday Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan outlined their established positions on key topics just a few hours after Turkish authorities issued a provocative announcement, offering a bounty for the return of eight Turkish servicemen who fled to Greece in 2016.
Among the positive developments were decisions to keep channels of communication open, for the country’s defense ministers to meet soon, and for the establishment of a joint business forum in Thessaloniki.
Apart from bilateral issues, talks also focused on the migration crisis and the implementation of the EU-Turkey deal to curb arrivals.
In a joint press conference with Tsipras in Ankara, Erdogan declared that all issues with Greece can be solved “on an equitable basis and in a peaceful way.”
He also insisted on the return of the eight servicemen, blaming them for deaths during the botched coup of 2016. “Greece must treat the fugitives appropriately. They are responsible for the deaths,” he said, adding that Greece must not become “a safe haven” for terrorists.
The Turkish leader also referred to the need for the “equal status” of Turkish Cypriots in Cyprus and Turks in Western Thrace to be recognized, and linked the question of the reopening of the Orthodox Seminary on Halki to the ability of the Muslim minority of Thrace to appoint its own muftis.
Asked by a reporter about the Halki school, he said: “Every time this comes up, I tell them we should resolve the issue of the muftis in Western Thrace. Let’s also solve this issue.”
Tsipras, for his part, remarked that “coup plotters are not welcome in Greece” but that “Greece must respect the judiciary’s decisions,” referring to rulings rejecting the men’s extradition to Turkey and granting them asylum.
The Greek PM also referred to transgressions over the Aegean. He said Greece and Turkey have agreed to de-escalate any tensions in the Aegean Sea and proceed with confidence-building measures, while any differences with Turkey “can and must be solved with dialogue.”
If these steps materialize, the two countries can then make progress and repeat the exploratory talks on the issue of the continental shelf in the Aegean, he added.
Tsipras also commented on gas exploration in the Eastern Mediterranean, noting the importance of “respect for international law... and the need for energy to form a bridge for cooperation in the region.”
As for the Cyprus problem, he called for a fair and viable solution that would benefit both communities. Erdogan said that an important parameter is achieving “equality” for Turkish Cypriots on the island.
On Wednesday, in Istanbul, Tsipras is to visit Hagia Sofia before going to the Halki seminary in the first such visit by a Greek premier in nearly nine decades.