Tensions between Greece and Turkey reached a new high this week when the two countries’ foreign ministers traded accusations during a live, televised news conference. The two NATO allies have been trying to rebuild relations after a dispute over a Turkish drilling ship pushed them to the brink of war last year.
At first, the talks looked like they were going well and the chances of re-booting relations between Greece and Turkey appeared positive.
Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias, in fact, got a surprise invite to meet Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan during Dendias’ trip to Ankara, and at a later news conference, said his country was keen to support Turkey’s bid to join the European Union.
But then, the climate instantly turned sour, when Dendias said Greece’s position was clear in that Turkey was violating international law and maritime rules in the Aegean Sea, adding that Ankara had to finally lift its threat to go to war with Athens if it moved to extend its territorial waters beyond the current six-mile range in the sea that divides them.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu shot down the remarks, calling them unacceptable and a provocation. He said Turkey had never infringed on Greek sovereignty in its search and drilling work in the Aegean Sea and the eastern Mediterranean. And then he lashed out at Athens for allegedly pushing back more than 80,000 migrants in the Aegean over the past year.
In addition, Cavusoglou warned that if Greece wanted to continue lodging accusations and fanning tension, Turkey was ready to reciprocate.
Greece and Turkey have been at odds for decades over a wide range of issues, ranging from competing claims in the Mediterranean, air space, energy resources, and the status of some uninhabited islands in the Aegean Sea.
Tensions flared dangerously high last year when Turkey dispatched a drilling ship in contested waters in the Mediterranean – a move that brought the navies of the two countries to the brink of war.
The European Union and the United States have since pushed both sides to the negotiating table, but the talks have made little progress.
Dendias’ trip to Ankara was intended to give the talks a boost.
But as sparks flew at the heated news conference Thursday, analysts in Athens, like Alexis Papachelas of the Kathimerini daily, wondered, “now what?”
Two scenarios, he said, can play out. Either both sides find a way to keep the talks moving, to show the West they are committed to the process without making any substantial concession. Or, Papachelas said, things can get ugly.
Greek intelligence officials contacted by VOA say they are already picking up chatter through social media that Turkey is mobilizing migrants and refugees to push into Greece – a move that strained relations between the two countries last year when President Erdogan lifted border controls for millions of refugees trapped in his country and seeking refuge in Europe.
Whether a new wave of migration materializes remains to be seen. Until then, Greece says it hopes to see Cavusoglu in Athens in the coming weeks for a second round of high-level talks.
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