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Jan 19, 2021

Greece and Turkey will sit down for exploratory talks on Jan. 25 in Istanbul for the primary time since March 2016. After the excessive tensions of final 12 months and being nudged to discussions by the European Union and the United States, the 2 historic rivals each appear to consider they profit from the optics of talks.

“In the short term, both Greece and Turkey are content with the process unfolding in this format,” Kostas Ifantis, former director for analysis on the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs and professor of worldwide relations at Panteion University in Athens, advised Al-Monitor.

The technical, pre-negotiation talks are an opportunity for each nations to consolidate what they consider to be their features and showcase to exterior powers their good religion, even when they’ll’t agree on what to debate.

“The Greeks say the agenda is just the maritime zone; the Turks say it’s everything. But neither side says the other is wrong,” mentioned Sotiris Roussos, a former senior Middle East skilled on the Greek Foreign Ministry and head of the Center for Middle East, Mediterranean and Islamic Studies.

Athens is eager to maintain the discussions restricted to the problem of maritime demarcation and unique financial zones (EEZs), whereas Ankara desires a broader format to debate the demilitarization of Aegean islands, the Muslim minority in Greece and the standing of islet formations.

“What Turkey wants is to share the Aegean and the other issues — such as demilitarization and the Muslim minority — are bargaining chips,” Roussos advised Al-Monitor.

Ankara has lengthy claimed Greece’s small island chains field within the nation of 82 million individuals with the biggest shoreline within the area. Talks between Greece and Turkey within the present format began in 2002, predating the election of Turkish President Recep Tayyib Erdogan. In these early years, Turkey was a severe candidate for the EU. Today, they happen within the context of rising estrangement between Turkey and the West.

“If these are exploratory talks, why not highlight what the problems are,” mentioned Murat Aslan, a former Turkish army intelligence skilled who has held numerous roles within the Defense Ministry and General Staff.

He advised Al-Monitor that talks with Athens are only one a part of Ankara’s issues relating to its lack of assist within the wider area. “From the Greek side, the No. 1 threat perception is Turkey; from the Turkish side, Greece is not No. 1.”

He added, “Turkey is alone in Syria, it’s alone in Libya, it’s alone within the japanese Mediterranean, it’s alone in every single place. The Turkish persons are extra involved about terrorism.”

Greece has made widespread trigger with different regional nations because it seeks to deal with the menace it believes Ankara poses to its curiosity. Athens signed a maritime demarcation settlement final August with Egypt, concluded a sequence of memoranda of understanding with the North African nation’s ally — the United Arab Emirates — and deepened cooperation with Israel by signing a $1.7 billion protection settlement.

“This has been an unprecedented 12 months of Greek diplomacy. Athens is behaving as a regional player,” Ifantis famous.

“Greece showed decisiveness and consistency in its foreign policy in the eastern Mediterranean over the last 12 months. It is definitely in a stronger position than it was in 2016,” mentioned Antonia Dimou of the Athens-based Institute for Security and Defense Analysis.

She pointed to Greece’s actions to stop migrants from Turkey crossing the Evros land border and maritime routes in early 2020. “The attempts to violate Greek borders and EU borders have not been successful due to the Greek coast guard and police,” she advised Al-Monitor.

Greece can be increasing its protection funds. On Jan. 14, the Greek parliament authorised a $three billion buy of 18 Rafale fighter jets from France.

“Exploratory talks are in no way undesirable for Greece. This format gives Greece time for a critical part of the new arms procurement program to materialize,” Ifantis added.

Turkey additionally believes it’s in a stronger place. “The latest developments in the eastern Mediterranean indicate that Turkey is really a power in the region, and now the EU is trying to build bridges to compromise, not to confront,” Aslan mentioned.

Asked concerning the impact of Greece’s diplomatic push within the area, Aslan mentioned it has not affected the Turkish calculus. “More important is Turkish-EU relations and what the EU prefers as its strategy toward Turkey.”

Turkey is the EU’s fifth-largest buying and selling companion and hosts an estimated four million refugees. Leaders in Berlin, Rome and Madrid have been reluctant to again Greece and are eager for Athens and Ankara to interact in dialogue.

The menace of sanctions seems restricted. “Now the EU can say there is no reason to discuss sanctions because we don’t want to disturb the talks. The United States is on the same track; they don’t want troubles in the eastern Mediterranean,” Roussos mentioned.

Roussos believes that Greece has overreached within the japanese Mediterranean and that right here Turkey has succeeded in blocking its claims.

“Greece has tried to persuade people that we are owning — via EEZs — over half of the eastern Mediterranean. This is absurd,” he famous. “The area east of Rhodes is a disputed area. So it is a no-no situation. Any plan of Greece for the EastMed pipeline is out of the question without Turkey.”

Greece mentioned the nations ought to take the problem of Kastellorizo, the tiny island of 500 individuals laying on the heart of japanese Mediterranean tensions, to worldwide court docket. Turkey prefers to barter the Aegean and japanese Mediterranean points as one. 

“We go to the international courts and Athens knows very well it would lose over Kastellorizo, but it would be a major precedent in the Aegean and here Greece has a stronger case,” Ifantis mentioned.

At the second, there seems to be little impetus for both facet to agree. Contrarily, the one profit could also be that the Greek-Turkish rivalry — as soon as remoted — has change into a part of bigger tensions within the Levant and Middle East. If Erdogan needed to pivot the West, a breakthrough in talks with Greece would in all probability be extra manageable than say Syria.

That would nonetheless require each Athens and Ankara to compromise on points that they’ve staked as these of sovereignty and nationwide curiosity. Until both facet perceives adequate advantages, they are going to doubtless preserve posturing for the longer term.

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