Türkiye has entered a new and positive era in its relations with Greece, Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan said Tuesday at a joint press conference with his Greek counterpart Giorgos Gerapetritis in Ankara.
“Ankara and Athens have differences of opinion in the Aegean and Mediterranean. The sides now must bring a new approach to solving their problems,” Fidan told reporters after talks with Gerapetritis addressing the string of decadesold disputes between their countries.
The meeting between the pair took place in a friendlier climate triggered by Greece sending assistance to Türkiye following two devastating earthquakes and Türkiye offering condolences after a deadly train crash in Greece earlier this year.
It also followed a rare meeting between President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis on the sidelines of a NATO summit in Vilnius in July, which was hailed as a positive milestone by both countries.
Mitsotakis and Erdoğan are also set to meet on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly in New York on Sept. 18, Gerapetritis confirmed Tuesday.
“We have agreed to maintain dialogue with Greece without preconditions,” Fidan said, stressing that Türkiye is prepared to develop ties “on the basis of common interests in all areas.”
According to Gerapetritis, the neighbors are expected to hold a high-level cooperation council meeting in Thessaloniki before the end of the year, which would be the first such meeting in seven years.
“Starting talks at once is the most critical step and confidence-building measures and talks between Türkiye and Greece will start soon,” Gerapetritis noted.
The roadmap the pair discussed will be conducted in three phases, the first of which is political discussions that will be overseen by Greek Deputy Foreign Minister Alexandra Papadopoulos.
He and Fidan discussed longstanding disputes like the Cyprus issue, Türkiye’s stalled EU membership process and irregular migration, as well as a “positive agenda” framework for boosting economic and commercial cooperation and expansion in other fields such as transportation, maritime, business cooperation, technology, environmental protection and tackling natural disasters.
In the Eastern Mediterranean and ethnically divided Cyprus, Türkiye always advocates for the “fair share principle”, Fidan said.
“Our stance on the resolution of the Cyprus issue is clear,” he noted, meaning Türkiye and Turkish Cypriote government’s commitment to the two-state solution based on equal sovereignty against Greek side’s insistence on a federal solution.
As two guarantor countries, Türkiye and Greece will continue discussing the matter, he noted.
As for illegal migration, a headache for both countries as they form a gateway to Europe for thousands of asylum-seekers from the greater Middle East and Asia, Fidan reiterated the need for “not competition but cooperation in tackling the issue.”
Ankara frequently condemns Greece for its notorious policy of pushing back asylum-seekers, something Athens denies despite claims to the contrary from alleged victims, rights groups, Turkish drones and even the U.N.’s special rapporteur on the human rights of migrants.
Fidan on Tuesday said he and Gerapetritis further addressed the situation of Turks in Greece, a minority numbering 150,000 and living in the Western Thrace region.
“Türkiye has implemented dozens of positive practices for minorities living here. We expect the same approach for our fellow Turks abroad,” Fidan noted, a thinly veiled reference to the deterioration of the rights of Turks in Western Thrace, where Greece has closed the community’s schools and mosques, banned the use of “Turk” or “Turkish” and refused the community from legally electing their religious leaders.
“The preservation of our cultural heritage in Greece is crucial for us and we are prepared to support the restoration of Ottoman works in Greece,” Fidan added, noting that he conveyed to Gerapetritis Ankara’s willingness to cooperate on the matter.
Fidan also said he reiterated Ankara’s expectations from the EU.
For his part, Gerapetritis said Greece has supported Ankara’s “EU tendency” for long years and is ready to back their recently reaffirmed ambition to join the bloc, “provided it meets the required conditions.”
Next month, the deputy foreign ministers of both diplomats will be tackling the headway made under the “Joint Action Plan” in Greece, according to Fidan.
“We have also conveyed our desire to see effective cooperation from our neighbor in our fight against terrorist groups like Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ), PKK and DHKP-C,” he added.
Türkiye and Greece have often locked horns over several issues, including competing claims to jurisdiction in the Eastern Mediterranean, overlapping claims over their continental shelves, maritime boundaries, airspace, energy, the ethnically split island of Cyprus, the status of the islands in the Aegean Sea and migrants.
Tensions flared in 2020 over exploratory drilling rights in areas of the Mediterranean Sea – where Greece and Greek Cyprus claim exclusive economic zones – leading to a naval standoff.
Despite saying that it has no intention of entering an arms race with Ankara, Athens has also been carrying out an ambitious rearmament program, building a military presence on the disputed Aegean islands since the 1960s in violation of postwar treaties and tightening its defense cooperation with the United States.
The purchase of fighter jets from the U.S. and the upping of defense budgets are meant to counter the protection of Turkish interests in the Eastern Mediterranean. Greece says it needs to defend the islands against a potential attack from Türkiye, but Turkish officials said continued militarization of the islands could lead to Ankara questioning their ownership. Türkiye has often warned against such moves and called instead for dialogue to resolve their disputes.