Thursday’s meeting of the foreign ministers of Greece and Turkey in Ankara will not suddenly usher in a new era of friendship between the two countries. Nikos Dendias has maintained good personal relations with Mevlut Cavusoglu since the time they were members of the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly. They often describe themselves as friends. Of course, in international relations, and especially in tense bilateral ones between states, what counts is behavior and actions.
In any case, the decisions are not taken by the foreign ministers. And if Dendias, one of the top members of the ruling party and a heavyweight on the domestic political scene, enjoys a significant degree of influence in shaping foreign policy, the same is not true of his Turkish counterpart.
On the other side of the Aegean, there is only one voice that counts: that of Recep Tayyip Erdogan. And if the Turkish president, who will Thursday receive the Greek foreign minister, means it when he says that joining the EU remains his strategic goal, then he must behave accordingly. And smartly. For the sake of his country, not Greece’s.
Erdogan should focus on the concrete political, diplomatic and economic benefits that Turkey can reap if our relations are normalized and take action to de-escalate tension. If he insists on appealing to the emotions of part of Turkish society, especially the followers of his nationalist government partner, and on projecting an aggressive maximalism of the sort he displayed Wednesday by threatening to once again invade Cyprus and conduct energy exploration in the sea area between Turkey and Libya, then he is obviously not interested in seeing a normalization of Greek-Turkish relations. And he is not serving his country’s long-term interests.
The Turkish president must understand that he cannot have it all: good relations with the US and the EU, and the resulting economic advantages, and at the same time promote his neo-Ottoman expansionism with threats against neighbors and plans to undo international agreements, from the Treaty of Lausanne to the Montreux Convention.
Turkey could have an ally in Brussels instead of an opponent. In a different environment, Greece could be a useful gateway to the EU. This is something many third countries acknowledge, from Egypt to Israel, and even Libya, as its transitional president declared in Athens on Wednesday.
Regarding Ankara’s relations, not only with Brussels but also Washington, it is in its interest not to have Greece as an adversary. Greece is neither an annoying “fly” as some Turkish officials have, naively and insultingly, described it recently, nor dοes it have a “small stature” as Defense Minister Hulusi Akar condescendingly declared, calling on Greece to behave accordingly.
It is not just Greece’s military power, in itself considerable, but, especially, the web of its political and economic alliances, which include the two of the planet’s greatest economic entities, the EU and the US, with which Greece has a functioning relationship and special ties.
The ball is in Turkey’s court. Dendias’ meetings with Erdogan and Cavusoglu on Thursday offer Ankara an opportunity to show its sincere desire to create a different environment in the bilateral relationship. Unfortunately, there are many reasons one doubts that will be the case.