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Erdogan attacks, Mitsotakis responds

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Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan got personal on Wednesday with Kyriakos Mitsotakis, accusing the Greek prime minister of provoking him, urging him to know his limits and making barely veiled threats of war.

Mitsotakis, given a chance to respond in an interview on Wednesday evening with Kathimerini Executive Editor Alexis Papachelas on Skai TV, refrained from responding in kind, saying Erdogan’s “rhetorical flourishes” were geared to a domestic audience.

Nonetheless, Mitsotakis said, Erdogan’s salvo would adversely affect any chances of a meeting between the two.

Erdogan’s attack took place in a speech to the parliamentary group of his Justice and Development Party (AKP).

“I made a statement that we can meet with Mitsotakis. I made this statement and I saw Mitsotakis is provoking me,” said Erdogan, who had made the statement following the resumption of low-level “exploratory talks” between the two countries. 

“Mitsotakis provoked me. When you provoke me, how can we meet? You must know your limits first. If you really want peace, don't provoke me. If you don't know your place, it is you who has upended the negotiating table,” Erdogan went on.

Erdogan’s phrasing, “know your limits” was a direct reference to a statement made by Meral Aksener, leader of the IYI (Good) Party, who had chided Mitsotakis after the latter, in a visit to Cyprus, repeated Greece’s position of a reunification of the island as a “bicommunal, bizonal” federation. Askener had told Mitsotakis that, even if he couldn’t accept it, the breakaway state in northern Cyprus – recognized only by Turkey – was an independent state and called on him to “learn what your limits are.”

A few days ago, when Mitsotakis visited the eastern Aegean island of Ikaria, Turkish officials expressed their displeasure. Turkey contends that several Greek islands close to its coast should be demilitarized, while it maintains a large army on its coast aimed at them.

Erdogan went a step further, saying Greece could not depend on anyone and that Turkey knew how to act alone. “You will get to know the ‘crazy Turks’ well,” he said.

In his interview, Mitsotakis repeated Greece’s position that it will not discuss with Turkey the demilitarization of its islands or any so-called “gray zones,” where, according to Turkey, sovereignty is disputed.