Tsipras Girds for Erdogan Showdown Over Aegean, Refugees

FILE - Greece's Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, left, and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan shake hands before a meeting in Ankara, Turkey, Wednesday, Nov. 18, 2015. (Presidential Press Service/Pool Photo via AP)

ATHENS – Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras is readying to meet Turkish President Recep Tayyip here on Dec. 7-8 in what is expected to be critical talks over Turkish fighter jets invading Greek airspace and refugees and migrants on Greek islands, sent there by human traffickers in Turkey.

Tsipras, who critics said has been deferential to the Turkish strongman, fearing more refugees could be sent to flood Greece, where they’ve been stuck since the European Union closed its borders and after the suspension of a swap deal, will host the first visit of a Turkish leader in 65 years.

Erdogan also is expected to press Greece to extradite eight Turkish military members who fled in the aftermath of a failed coup attempt against him in July, 2016, in which they said they played no part but fled for their lives, fearing his wrath and as he has considered bringing back the death penalty and purging Turkish civil society and the military.

Turkey also has been sending warships past Greek islands and conducted live fire naval exercises, drawing harsh response from Defense Minister Panos Kammenos, chief of the pro-austerity, marginal, jingoistic Independent Greeks (ANEL) who are junior partners in the coalition led by Tsipras’ Radical Left SYRIZA, as the Premier has remained quiet.

Greece continues to back Turkey’s hopes of entering the European Union although Germany, the biggest contributor to 326 billion euros ($387.85 billion) in three international bailouts propping up the Greek economy, wants the accession talks to end.

Erdogan insists that Tsipras promised him, just a few hours after the thwarted coup, that Greece would return any Turkish officers seeking refuge here, unnamed sources told Kathimerini, but Greek courts have barred their extradition, saying it’s not safe for them to be sent back.

Erdogan is also expected to press Ankara’s demand for the construction of an official mosque in Athens that has been delayed for years while Tsipras was reportedly to ask for Turkey to reopen the Greek Orthodox seminary on Halki island off Constantinople, which the rest of the world calls Istanbul.

The two men will also discuss the creation of a rail link from Constantinople to Thessaloniki, a coastal link to Izmir and a bridge connecting the customs crossings of Kipoi and Ipsala.

A large government and media delegation will arrive with Erdogan in Athens although it wasn’t reported whether protests and demonstrations will be banned as they have been for visits of other heads of state, such as German Chancellor Angela Merkel.