It is customary for the leaders of Greece and Turkey to meet on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly that takes place every September in New York. Even when Greece and Turkey ended up being represented at the foreign minister level, such contacts were carried out at the two countries’ permanent missions at the UN, alternately.
We are going through a tense period, with an escalation of verbal “warnings” and even threats from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, which are occasionally "complemented" by grandiose maps, and with a succession of navigational telexes whose basic purpose is to turn up the heat. At the same time we are witnessing increasingly provocative actions within Cyprus’ exclusive economic zone.
This also comes at a time when Turkey’s relations with both the European Union and the United States are under particular strain. Given all these factors, the meeting between Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and Erdogan later this month could prove useful and even contribute toward a de-escalation of this tension.
The main question will be whether the Turkish president is prepared to talk, given his one-dimensional assessment of the balance of power, and his apparent dismissal of the dangers posed to himself and his country by his arrogant attitude, which is not limited to Greece and Cyprus. It’s an attitude that is harming Turkey’s economy and is leading the president himself into even greater isolation.
The expected meeting will be the first to take place between the two since Mitsotakis was elected to power in July. In this sense, it will have the tone of a getting-to-know-you encounter, even though the Mitsotakis family is well known in Ankara, where over the years it has built a sense of credibility and good intentions. Even though nothing tangible has come of this, it was a good thing that even in difficult times the lines of communication have remained open with most the leaders of the neighboring country, from the secular leaders of the past, to the present one.
In New York Mitsotakis and Erdogan will have the opportunity to deliberate with their respective diplomatic teams, but also talk one on one. They will be able to assess, explain, convince, and perhaps even set the foundations for a new modus vivendi. In any case, what is certain is that the choice for a more harmonious relationship that would benefit both sides – a position championed by every Greek prime minister with whom the Turkish president has worked over the past 16 years – rests with Erdogan himself.