ANKARA — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan – with Greek and Turkish officials set to resume exploratory talks – jumped into it with a warning to Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis to back off provoking him.
Going back and forth between saying he wanted diplomacy while threatening war – the European Union on the sidelines refusing to intervene – Erdogan accused Mitsotakis of being a provocateur.
Erdogan’s attack took place in a speech to the parliamentary group of his Justice and Development Party (AKP) said Kathimerini as he returned to belligerence after earlier backing away from tough talk.
“I made a statement that we can meet with Mitsotakis. I made this statement and I saw Mitsotakis is provoking me,” said Erdogan. A first session of the 61st round of talks between the countries – after a four-year delay – was held in an informal session Jan. 25 in Constantinople, the next set for Athens in March.
“Mitsotakis provoked me. When you provoke me, how can we meet? You must know your limits first. If you really want peace, don't provoke me. If you don't know your place, it is you who has upended the negotiating table,” Erdogan went on, the report said.
Erdogan warned Greece no one would help if there was trouble between the two countries and that Turkey knew how to act alone. “You will get to know the ‘crazy Turks’ well,” he said.
Erdogan’s phrasing, “know your limits” was a reference to a statement made by Meral Aksener, leader of the IYI (Good) Party, who ripped Mitsotakis for saying, during a visit to Cyprus, that Greece wants a “biommunal, bizonal” federation.
Erdogan said he doesn’t want reunification of the island but international recognition for the isolated occupied northern third seized during two unlawful invasions in 1974.
Askener had told Mitsotakis that, even if he couldn’t accept it, the breakaway state in northern Cyprus – recognized only by Turkey – was an independent state and called on him to “learn what your limits are.”
Mitsotakis, during an interview Kathimerini Executive Editor Alexis Papachelas on SKAI TV, didn’t take Erdogan’s bait, saying the Turkish leader is prone to “rhetorical flourishes” to satisfy his domestic audience.
But Mitsotakis said the shots fired could jeopardize any chance the two will talk formally again, already not speaking after Erdogan kept up a tactic of sending an energy research vessel and warships off the Greek island of Kastellorizo and pulling them back to avoid European Union sanction threats.
Erdogan is also upset that Greece won’t remove troops from Greek islands near Turkey’s coast, places that he said he wants returned to Turkey after they were ceded away during the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne he doesn’t recognize.
He wants demilitarization of Greek islands to be on the agenda for the talks but Mitsotakis won’t have it, further angering the volatile Turkish leader given to outbursts at any moment.