The phone conversation on Friday between Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was widely seen as a first step toward restoring channels of communication between Athens and Ankara, which were completely suspended in the previous period, and deemed necessary for any prospect of de-escalating tensions between the two countries.
The two leaders, who had not spoken to each other since January 24, discussed low-level policy issues such as the effects of the pandemic and the prospect of opening borders to restore tourist flows.
Indeed, Greece has said that, in principle, it is not opposed to the inclusion of Turkey, as well as the countries of the Western Balkans, in the first group of third countries that the European Union will lift travel restrictions on.
Diplomatic sources emphasized that ensuring calm on the Greek-Turkish front is a factor that facilitates the arrival of tourists, as the wider area becomes a more attractive destination.
The phone call, which was arranged after consultation between the associates of the two men, aimed, the same sources said, at “breaking the ice” between the two sides and reopening communication channels.
“There can be no diplomacy and understanding when communication channels are broken,” the prime minister’s aides noted, pointing out however that “this in no way implies concessions on the country’s national interests.”
In the period since January, tensions between the two countries have reached fever pitch, with rhetoric from the Turkish side often reaching incendiary levels. At the same time, the volume of Turkish overflights in the Aegean exceeded those of previous years.
All this, combined with the way in which Ankara is seeking to make its presence felt in the wider region of the Eastern Mediterranean has contributed to a volatile climate.
Among the many indications that relations between the two men had deteriorated was when in early March – at the height of the Evros border crisis when thousands of migrant and refugees tried to cross into Greece from Turkey – Erdogan had told reporters that he did not want to talk to Mitsotakis.