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Turkey’s Erdogan Vows ‘New Era’ in Ties with Greece

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Thursday made his first official visit to Athens since 2017, telling his Greek counterpart that he believes that “a new era” is dawning in relations between their two countries.

Greece and Turkey have long been regional rivals, but ties have recently become closer after Greece sent rescuers and aid to Turkey following a February earthquake that killed at least 50,000 people there.

What was said during the visit?

Erdogan and Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis signed a declaration on “Friendly Relations and Good Neighbourliness” in Athens.

“There is no issue between us that is unsolvable. So long as we focus on the big picture and don’t end up being like those who cross the sea and drown in the river,” Erdogan said after a longer than scheduled meeting with Mitsotakis.

“We want to turn the Aegean into a sea of peace. Through the joint steps we will take as Turkey and Greece, we want to be an example to the world,” he added.

Mitsotakis said while relations had been “dangerously threatened” in past years it was now on a  “calmer path.”

“Geography and history has dictated that we live in the same neighborhood … But I feel a historical responsibility to utilise this opportunity to bring the two states side-by-side, just as our borders are,” Mitsotakis said.

The two leaders signed more than a dozen deals including ones on energy, education, agriculture, sports, technology and tourism. 

Erdogan also met Greek President Katerina Sakellaropoulou in televised comments that he believed that “the Turkey-Greece strategic cooperation meeting will lead to a new era” in relations, adding that “we need to be optimistic, and this optimism will be fruitful in the future.”

The Turkish president said, “We will discuss what steps going forward we can take on all issues after preparations have been made by the relevant ministers. We will proceed in a more logical way.”   

“I believe it is best for the future of both sides to discuss looking at the glass half-full,” Erdogan said.

Erdogan said he aimed to nearly double bilateral trade volume to $10 billion (€9.3 billion) from $5.5 billion currently.

Sakellaropoulou, whose role is largely ceremonial, said the natural disasters that hit both countries this year — wildfires and floods in Greece and the earthquake in Turkey — had brought the two closer together.  

She said it is now “perhaps more necessary than ever for Greece and Turkey to work together to enhance prosperity, to preserve peace, stability and respect for international law, and to promote good neighborly relations for the benefit of both our peoples and the wider region.”

What issues divide Turkey and Greece?

Ankara and Athens have long had territorial disputes and rows over expoitation rights in the Aegean Sea and eastern Mediterranean, with Erdogan last year accusing Greece of “occupying” Aegean islands and threatening to use force in return.

The disputes have led the two countries to the brink of war three times in the last 50 years.

Migration has also been a thorny issue, as many people fleeing conflict in the Middle East and elsewhere use Turkey as a point of departure for Europe via the Mediterranean, with Greece a frequent gateway to the EU.

A 2016 deal with the EU aimed to curb the number of people making the attempt, and one agreement to be signed in Athens during Erdogan’s five-hour visit also focuses on migration, aiming to establish better communication between the coast guards of the two countries.

Greece is expected to put its weight behind Ankara’s longstanding request to ease travel restrictions for Turkish nationals in the European Union.

Source: DW