Greece, Turkiye work to build better ties amid differences

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As they count down to a summit of leaders, Ankara and Athens walk a thin diplomatic line as officials from both countries acknowledge disagreements but believe improvements in relations are possible

Foreign Desk

Ankara ;Türkiye and Greece are looking forward to a meeting of their leaders in December while officials from both sides hail the benefits of improvements in once-hostile ties.

Greece emphasized that the benefits of better relations with Türkiye without ignoring fundamental differences between the two countries. In an article penned for the Parapolitika newspaper, Foreign Minister George Gerapetritis drew attention to the thaw in relations since February.

“In this regard, political and administrative communication channels have been developed in recent months, fostering an improved level of mutual understanding and facilitating the development of essential interpersonal relations.”

“We emphasize mutually beneficial cooperation, namely a positive agenda with measures more of a commercial and economic character and confidence-building measures oriented toward the defense and military dimension,” he wrote.

But Gerapetritis warned about the profound differences between the two neighboring NATO allies in bilateral relations and international matters.

In particular, he noted the Greek-Turkish High-Level Cooperation Council to be held in Athens on Dec. 7.

“The Greek government welcomes the upcoming High-Level Cooperation Council with awareness and seriousness. And with our gaze fixed on the next generations. It is to them we owe the legacy of a peaceful international neighborhood, which will substantially contribute to the prosperity and progress of our country.”

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis affirmed the “positive climate” in relations during a meeting in September in New York. The leaders confirmed the road map and timeline of bilateral contacts as agreed to in an earlier meeting of foreign ministers in Ankara.

Keeping channels open

Although Türkiye and Greece have to deal with longstanding issues, keeping all channels open helps build more trust and respect toward each other’s sensitivities and vital interests, Communications Director Fahrettin Altun said in an interview with the Greek daily Ta Nea.

“We should keep all channels open. We must talk to each other, not others about each other. Such a common understanding would help build more trust and respect towards each other’s sensitivities and vital interests,” Altun added. He also pointed out that as long as they have “more transparency, predictability and sense of good neighborliness,” both countries will have enough space to solve their differences.

Stressing that nobody benefits from tension, he said Türkiye and Greece have to deal with longstanding issues and that most are interrelated and complex.

“However, we can solve them to the benefit of future generations,” he said, adding that they both owe future generations good neighborly relations like they enjoyed during the times of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, founder of the Republic of Türkiye, and Eleftherios Venizelos, who served several terms as Greek prime minister around the time of Atatürk.

“The cooperation between them was a big step towards the future. We must continue with these steps. Our countries are in the same (NATO) alliance and we have much better circumstances today. And we have common challenges, too,” he added.

Emphasizing that mutual trust, efforts, sincere and constructive dialogue, and patience are required to resolve issues between the countries, he said it is important to avoid escalatory rhetoric.

“Politicians should refrain from provocative statements that attract media attention. When we look at the Greek media, we regrettably observe that there are still numerous articles and commentaries on Türkiye that do not reflect the truth and adversely affect Greek public opinion,” he said.

Public opinion is important as it constrains decision-makers, he said, noting that a constructive media attitude will be reflected positively in public opinion, which in turn will give politicians the necessary freedom to advance bilateral ties.

On the countries’ 5th High-Level Cooperation Council, he said the council will convene on Dec. 7 in Athens for the first time in seven years. “This is a significant development considering our tense relations in recent years. Thanks to solidarity diplomacy and increased contacts, we have ushered in this new period in our relationship and we have the will to continue this positive trend. Both countries should seize this opportunity to find solutions to our longstanding issues,” he said.

He said the council is important as it demonstrates the political will to improve relations further and gives a very positive signal to the public in both countries. He added that preparations are underway to make as much concrete progress as possible during the council meeting.

On irregular migration, Altun said: “We believe that our common priority should be ending the loss of life in the Aegean and on the ground. Our relevant authorities are now working towards establishing efficient cooperation mechanisms.”

While these dialogue efforts are underway, provocative and counter-productive statements that benefit no one should be avoided, he added.