The United States, seconded by Germany, has intervened decisively to keep tensions between uneasy allies Greece and Turkey from boiling over. Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis had alerted Washington to the dangers of Turkey’s escalating aggressive rhetoric leading to an armed incident in the Aegean.
US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan’s meeting last Wednesday in Berlin with Ibrahim Kalin, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s spokesman and closest adviser, opened the way to an effort at de-escalating tensions, an effort that continued with a brief one-on-one meeting between the two countries’ defense ministers, Nikos Panagiotopoulos and Hulusi Akar, in Brussels on Thursday. That meeting would not have taken place without the strong urging of the US on Turkey.
Mitsotakis, who has been determined to avoid matching Ankara’s heated rhetoric, immediately agreed to the meeting. Greece believes keeping communication lines open will be crucial to avoiding a ‘hot summer’ in the Aegean, with large-scale military training drills and forays by Turkish “research vessels” into the Aegean and the Eastern Mediterranean.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg also did his part to make the meeting between the two defense ministers happen. His positions on the Aegean, the Eastern Mediterranean and his talk of Turkey’s “legitimate concerns” regarding the efforts of Finland and Sweden to join NATO have been widely decried, in Greece, but have also allowed him to approach Erdogan.
In their meeting, Panagiotopoulos and Akar reportedly talked about avoiding heated rhetoric as much as possible, limiting incursions of Turkish fighters into Greek airspace and the need, of both countries, for a successful tourist season.
The most optimistic of officials also say that a meeting between Erdogan and Mitsotakis could happen at the NATO summit in Madrid, on June 29-30, despite Erdogan’s insistence that he will no longer talk with the Greek prime minister.
However, the consensus in Athens is that Erdogan will not back down from his incendiary rhetoric. This would complicate the defense ministers’ efforts to maintain communication. A possible clash with the US over NATO’s enlargement in Madrid could also hamper efforts to lower tensions between Greece and Turkey.