ANKARA – After saying he would no longer talk to Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan has ended all bilateral talks between the countries, ending a brief detente earlier this year.
The Turkish leader also used the occasion of Turkey celebrating the 1453 capture of Constantinople, now called Istanbul outside of Greece, to say the conversion of the Hagia Sophia Orthodox cathedrawl into a mosque had “healed a wound in the heart of the conquest.”
Taking a harder line against Greece at the same time he said he would veto any hopes of Finland and Sweden to enter NATO, Turkey has for now ended further discussion after the failure of 65 rounds of exploratory talks that resumed after a five-year break.
“We broke off our high-level strategy council meetings with Greece,” Erdogan told a meeting of his party’s lawmakers in Ankara, adding: “Don’t you learn any lessons from history? Don’t try to dance with Turkey.”
Erdogan has said he would also send an energy research vessel and warships off Greek islands again, has continued to send fighter jets into Greek airspace as NATO refuses to intervene, and demanded Greece take troops off Aegean islands near Turkey’s coast.
That has raised worries of a conflict, accidental or otherwise, with Mitsotakis unable to get unanimous support in the European Union after Erdogan said he wouldn’t talk to the Greek leader and the bloc refusing sanctions.
The trigger, said Erdogan, was Mitsotakis in an address to the US Congress – without mentioning Turkey – urging the lawmakers to vote down President Joe Biden’s plan to sell more F-16’s to Turkey and upgrade its air fleet.
Those could be used against Greece and Erdogan also wants to buy F-35’s denied after he authorized purchase of a Russian-made S-400 missile system that undermines NATO and is a threat to Greece.
Turkey and Greece, NATO allies, have long been at odds over a host of issues such as maritime boundaries, the extent of their continental shelves, airspace, and ethnically split Cyprus, noted the Reuters news agency.
“Hagia Sophia has regained its status in our civilization as the flying flag in the heart of Istanbul,” Erdogan told lawmakers of his AK Party. He ordered the conversion for the church that is surrounded by minarets and now used for Muslim prayers although it’s a UNESCO world heritage site.
Erdogan also commented on Turkey’s objection to Sweden and Finland joining NATO. Ankara has complained the Nordic states harbor terror suspects and arm a group in Syria it accuses of being an extension of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK that has waged a 38-year insurgency inside Turkey.
“NATO is a security organization, not a support organization for terrorist organizations,” he said.
The U.S. and EU have categorized the PKK as a terror group. However, it’s Syrian wing, the People’s Protection Units, or YPG, has played a leading role in the U.S.-led fight against the Islamic State group.
Erdogan said those who tried to legitimize the PKK with “letter tricks” were “deceiving themselves, not us.”
The president added that Turkey would not change its stance on the Swedish and Finnish NATO application without seeing “binding documents” demonstrating a hardened approach to those Ankara considers terrorists.
Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson told a news conference in Stockholm that she’s looking forward to “further constructive meetings” with Turkey to “sort out any issues or misunderstandings that there might be.”
Sweden has a significant Kurdish diaspora and most of Ankara’s complaints about support for “terrorists” seem directed there. Finland, meanwhile, has a Kurdish-speaking population of around 15,000.
Regarding a new cross-border military operation in Syria, Erdogan said Turkey was “entering a new phase” in its goal to create a 30-kilometer (19-mile) buffer zone south of the frontier.
The territory is controlled by a Syrian Kurdish administration and Ankara says it has been used to launch attacks on Turkey.
Erdogan singled out the towns of Tall Rifat and Manbij as targets Turkey will be “clearing of terrorists.” Both lie west of the Euphrates river while the main Kurdish-controlled region is to the east.
(Material from Associated Press was used in this report)
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