Ankara has sought to play down recent comments by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Cyprus that sparked a strong reaction from Greece’s foreign ministry, according to reports Friday.
During a visit to the Turkish-occupied north of Nicosia earlier this week, Erdogan called for a two-state solution for the divided island while claiming that Greece was not “doing its duty” as a guarantor power to break the ongoing deadlock.
The newly-elected president also said Ankara would allow the reopening of a former Greek Orthodox seminary near Istanbul if Greece permitted the construction of traditional mosques with minarets in Athens and allowed Muslim communities in Thrace, northern Greece, to directly appoint muftis.
Greek Foreign Ministry spokesman Constantinos Koutras responded by slamming Ankara’s “aggressive policy” on Cyprus and accused Erdogan of trying to “equate certain of Greece’s international obligations with Turkey’s heavy burden of responsibility regarding the Cyprus issue.”
In a statement, Turkey’s foreign ministry has reportedly expressed its “astonishment” over Koutras’s remarks, attributing them to domestic policy considerations.
“Turkey will always continue to be one step ahead in this process in cooperation primarily with the United Nations, the other guarantors and interested countries,” the ministry said, according to reports.
The ministry reportedly added that the interpretation of Erdogan’s statements by officials in Athens does not reflect the spirit of cooperation that has recently been established between the two sides and which Turkey wishes to maintain.
Prime Minister Antonis Samaras was expected to meet with Erdogan on the sildelines of NATO’s summit in Wales on Friday.
Talks between the two leaders are expected to focus on peace talks for the divided island as well as bilateral relations between the two countries.
Meanwhile, the UN’s new special adviser on Cyprus, Espen Barth Eide, arrived on the Mediterranean island Thursday for what was billed as a “familiarisation” visit.
Eide, a former foreign minister of Norway, was on Friday expected to hold separate meetings with Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades and Turkish-Cypriot leader Dervis Eroglu. Reports said there was no plan for a joint meeting before September 21 when Anastasiades travels to New York for the UN General Assembly.
Cyprus has been split since a 1974 Turkish military invasion, dividing the north from the south after a brief Greek Cypriot coup engineered by the military then ruling Greece.