The Greek side was and remains ready and willing to enter into exploratory talks with Ankara. The recent agreement on exclusive economic zones (EEZs) between Greece and Egypt seems to have irked Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who abruptly called off the upcoming talks, but if Ankara changes its mind and decides to join Athens, the Greek side will be there, well prepared, with realistic targets and with a detailed analysis of the content of previous discussions.
After a four-year hiatus since the last round, the two sides had been ready to pick up where they had left off and – if the desire for a rapprochement was genuine – make real progress.
Heading the talks on the Greek side was going to be Ambassador (ad hon.) Pavlos Apostolidis, a seasoned diplomat with a profound understanding of the issues at play (he has led the delegation since 2010 and has also served as chief of Greek intelligence) who has earned the respect of Turkish diplomatic circles.
It goes without saying that the reliability of the key players is instrumental if progress is to be made – and to there being no nasty surprises. For any convergence to be reached, the talks would need to be held in an atmosphere of sincerity, confidentiality and trust, without any malicious leaks.
Athens has often reiterated that it is ready for a dialogue with Turkey. In that spirit it will be waiting for Ankara to return to the table.
However, if the latter aims for any talks to be seen as taking place under the threat of war, the efforts will fail.
Greece does not want tension, and this is something known by its allies, as well as by Turkey. The former, and also the totality of the international media, moreover, have taken note of Turkey’s increasingly provocative and aggressive behavior recently. This behavior is evident not just vis-à-vis Greece and Cyprus, but also against a broad range of countries in the wider region, and with different targets. It is well known that Erdogan is also on a collision course with Israel, as he is with almost the entire Arab world.
As a result of his neo-Ottoman ambitions and the explosive domestic mix of nationalist and religious fervor in Turkey – as clearly evidenced by the recent conversion of Hagia Sophia into a mosque – the region and the international community view the country as a dangerous player that must be dealt with swiftly, before the damage it causes becomes irreparable.
Greece, for its part, is looking forward to the – now distant – possibility of having talks, with an honest desire for peace and normalization of relations, a development that will benefit both countries, starting with the significant prospects for cooperation in the vital and hard-hit area of tourism.
In any case, an honest and meaningful dialogue is one that is carried out between two sides that respect each other. Not between one trying to project itself as a powerful nation that somehow has nothing to lose while presenting the other as weak and fearful. Apart from the significant harm Greece can cause Turkey, Erdogan cannot discount the reality of the vulnerability of the Turkish economy or the impact tensions with its European neighbor – as well as his regional isolation – may have on his country’s economic prospects.
This is the framework in which exploratory talks should be relaunched at the diplomatic and technical level. Provided there are no threats or efforts to sabotage them, through hard work a solid foundation can be created on which the political leaderships of the two countries can then build, with Berlin assisting in a facilitator role, and following the dictates of international law.
One can only hope that Erdogan’s explosive and unwarranted reaction to the Athens-Cairo agreement will not bury the prospect of an honest and meaningful dialogue with Greece.