ATHENS – With 63 rounds of negotiations failing for years to settle differences, Greece and Turkey will try for a 64th time, the next roun scheduled for Feb. 22 in the Greek capital.
It comes during a particularly high period of tension between them with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and high government officials in his administration even warning there could be war if Greece extends its territorial waters from 6 to 12 miles – shorter than the distance between some Greek islands and Turkey’s coast.
On the table for talk is a range of issues including airspace and seas sovereignty, maritime zones and Turkey’s plans to hunt for energy off Greek islands as it’s already doing off Cyprus, drawing soft Eurpean Union sanctions.
Greece and Turkey had suspended the talks for five years before picking them up again in 2021 as the COVID-19 pandemic lingered but three more rounds went nowhere fast and resulted only in informal chit-chats, nothing resolved.
Turkey has repeatedly blamed Greece for intransigence and anything that went wrong between them although Turkey has violated Greek airspace and waters with fighter jets and warships.
Erdogan said he wants diplomacy on his terms, offering talks at the same time he’s stepped up provocations, including Turkey now demanding that Greece remove troops off Aegean islands off Turkey’s coast.
He cited the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne he doesn’t recognize, Greece rejecting any idea of demilitarization that would leave the islands susceptible to being swiftly taken by Turkey if there’s a conflict.
He’s also blamed Greece for rallying international allies, including the United States, although NATO – to which all three countries belong – has refused to intervene over Turkey’s provications.
He’s also upset that Greece made deals with France to buy warships and fighters jets and wants to upgrade its F-16’s and reaching out for US-made F-35 fighters denied Turkey for its purchase of Russian S-400 missile defense systems.
Turkey described Greece’s moves of arming itself as “futile,” said Turkey’s pro-government newspaper The Daily Sabah that is a mouthpiece for Erdogan and government officials.
Erdoğan issued another warning against Greece about demilitarization of theislands, as has Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, who said, “If Greece does not give up on this (armament of the islands), the sovereignty of these islands will be discussed,” he said, stepping up threats.