Calmer waters

Foreign Minister Petros Molyviatis’s meeting with his Turkish counterpart Abdullah Gul on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly has confirmed that bilateral relations have truly entered calmer waters. For the third year in a row, the air and sea exercises «Nikiforos,» «Toxotis,» «Barbaros» and «Toros» in the eastern Aegean have been canceled (with the agreement of Cypriot President Tassos Papadopoulos). Both foreign ministries have decided to strengthen bilateral confidence-building measures at a broader level, and generally both sides have appeared willing to achieve a closer rapprochement. Both countries are aware of the difficulties they have inherited from the past, but appear determined to consolidate the climate of cooperation, even if the cautious steps they are taking do not appear to be leading to immediate solutions. In Turkey, of course, there are still powerful enclaves among the military establishment entrenched in traditional, competitive stereotypes, which they take care to air every now and then. For the moment, however, it is the Erdogan government, which appears to want to avoid tension with Greece, that appears to be setting the tone of public rhetoric. In contrast to the other Turkish political parties, which have more or less accepted the tutelage of the generals, the ruling party has an interest in maintaining detente. Despite its broad parliamentary majority, it is not capable of introducing more democracy into Turkish politics, to say nothing of changing broader strategy. So the prospect of joining Europe is acting as a kind of forceps. That is why much will depend on the European Commission’s report, and above all the response by the European Council next December to Turkey’s request to set a date for accession talks to begin. Athens prefers a moderate prime minister as an interlocutor, so it is prepared to help Erdogan as far as possible. Its decision to favor Turkey in December and its ability to influence Nicosia is already a great help. If the Council decides in Turkey’s favor, even conditionally, the position of Turkey’s prime minister will be strengthened. However, if there is a surprise rejection, it is likely that the «deep state» will go on the counteroffensive and try to undermine the government. This could have an adverse effect on Greek-Turkish relations, in the sense that it would be an obstacle to rapprochement, given that this is not yet consolidated. But even if this happens, it will not be Athens’s fault.

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