ATHENS – The Lausanne Treaty is the cornerstone of Greek-Turkish relations, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said during joint statements with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Thursday, after their meeting at the Maximos Mansion in Athens.
Tsipras underlined the importance of enhancing channels of communication between the two countries, noting that Erdogan’s visit to Greece was historic, as was the initiative taken by President Prokopios Pavlopoulos to invite him.
The Greek government was aware of the problems that divide Greece and Turkey, he added, as some undermined these relations every day.
Tsipras stressed the need to end Turkish airspace violations in the Aegean, adding that retaining Turkey’s casus belli threat against Greece (if the latter should choose to extend its territorial waters to 12 miles) is inconsistent with cultivating a good climate between the two countries.
“We spoke openly with the Turkish President in our effort not to hide behind disagreements. We wanted to identify them but to discard misunderstandings and clarify what each of us means. We talked about tension in the Aegean. I have stressed that Turkish air space violations must be terminated. The increased violations of Greek airspace and especially the dogfights in the Aegean Sea are a danger to our relations and, above all, a danger to our pilots,” he said.
Commenting on the issue of the Muslim minority, Tsipras said the reforms needed in Greece are not issues that are debated between two countries. “We will implement our policy because we want to implement it, and it concerns a domestic issue,” he said.
“The Muslim minority in Thrace and the Greek minority in Turkey must bring the two countries closer together. Our government is particularly concerned for Greek Muslim citizens and is sensitive to all minorities,” he said.
On Cyprus, Tsipras reiterated it is primarily a problem of illegal invasion and occupation. “I’m 43 years old and for 43 years the Cyprus issue remains open. Every time we discuss who’s to blame. However Mr. President, we must not forget that this issue remains open because 43 years ago there was an illegal invasion and occupation of [northern] Cyprus. This is why it remains open,” he said.
He reiterated Greece?s position for a united, federal Cyprus, without guarantees ad foreign troops, where Greek and Turkish Cypriots will live in safety. “This solution will have to be based on the framework set out by the Secretary-General of the UN.”
Tsipras also urged the Turkish President to utilize the positive momentum created for the Greek economy to help open a new chapter in Greek-Turkish relations that are not based on mutual suspicion but on mutual respect and solidarity.
He also expressed hope that Turkey will accept this proposal adding that if it doesn’t, it will be to the detriment of both peoples, Geek-Turkish and EU-Turkish relations.
On his side, Erdogan said he’s pleased to visit the country as a head of state and reiterated his view that the Lausanne Treaty needs “revisions”.
“I am happy that after 65 years I am making an official visit as the President of the Republic of Turkey to Greece. This place is familiar to me, I visited as a Prime Minister, but it is the first time I visit as President of the Republic,” he said in his opening remarks. “The steps we have made are important ?we also raised issues such as the High-Level Greek-Turkish Cooperation Council which was held under my own chairmanship,” he added.
“The Lausanne Treaty was signed by 11 countries. Are there only provisions for the Aegean in the treaty? Isn’t there anything about the status of the two minorities? In western Thrace we have a Muslim minority and we believe there can be new thoughts on this issue,” he said. “The issues of the Aegean are tricky but can be resolve with talks.”
Erdogan claimed that there’s great economic disparity between Western Thrace and the rest of the country, saying there’s “an economic gap”. On the issue of the mufti in Thrace, he reiterated that he shouldn?t be a civil servant chosen by the state. “We do not have problems with freedom of religion. But there are issues in Western Thrace.”
Asked about the “revisions” he suggested, he said that Turkey “does not covet the territorial integrity of any country and any neighbouring country.”
On Cyprus, he said Turkey and Greece are “motherlands” and guarantor powers. “We want a fair and viable solution. This is what the Greek side wants as well, but we have last-minute issues arising which could be considered as evasions, so that we do not reach any conclusion.”
Erdogan also reiterated his call for the extradition of the eight Turkish servicemen who arrived in Greece after the failed coup in Turkey. “The coup plotters can be returned to Turkey which is a country that has abolished the death penalty, where there is no torture, and I hope Greek justice will listen to us on this issue.”
Commenting on the recent decision by U.S. President Donald Trump to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, Erdogan said: “Israel and the United States are the only countries that speak of Jerusalem as a capital of Israel. Jerusalem is the spiritual center of the three major monotheistic religions.”