ATHENS – With Greece and her allies wondering whether Turkey’s need to keep tourists flowing – its weakening currency simultaneously a problem at home and a lure to potential visitors from abroad – is sufficient to stop her from repeating last year’s provocations that brought the Aegean neighbors close to war, a positive message seemed to issue this week from Turkish Energy Minister Fatih Donmez.
On Tuesday Donmez said Turkey “ruled out the possibility of seismic surveys by Turkish ships in the area between the islands of Rhodes and Crete since last year’s exploratory activities by the Turkish Oruc Reis vessel had not yielded any results,” Kathimerini reported.
Donmez said on Turkish TV network Haberturk that “if nothing is found in the seismic surveys done here, we won’t drill as it costs millions of dollars. It is not a matter of political decision but a technical one. We do not drill where there is no possibility of finding anything,” he said.
Analysts, according to Kathimerini, say that his comments, “that perhaps nothing remarkable was found in the region last year, is a political message to Greece that Turkey will not send research vessels or drillships in the near future, giving time for diplomacy.”
Sources also told Kathimerini, “that the disputes between the two countries over maritime areas of responsibility in the Aegean and the Eastern Mediterranean could be deferred to the International Court of Justice, as long, they noted, as Athens adheres to the same philosophy and principles of consultation as it did with the agreements on the same issue it signed with Italy and Egypt.”
It is interesting to note that Kathimerini reports that for, “some analysts in Turkey, the agreements signed by Greece with Italy and Egypt for the delimitation of maritime areas of responsibility, show that ‘Athens has shifted even a little bit its attitude to the principles it adhered to on these issues.”
If that is the case, they emphasized, then Turkey could engage in consultations.”
TURKEY REACHES OUT FOR SUPPORT AND TOURISTS
In an important development in U.S.-Turkey relations that potentially impacts Greece, “Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has offered to secure Afghanistan’s vital Kabul international airport in a bid to improve US-Turkey relations as American and NATO troops complete their pullout from the war-battered country,” France24 reported.
The French outlet noted, however, that “a Taliban warning underscores the military and diplomatic challenges of the Turkish offer” as “the Taliban gains ground and foreign embassies issue evacuation advisories for their nationals in Afghanistan.”
This week the Taliban warned Turkey about extending its troop presence in Afghanistan in a statement posted on Twitter. France 24 reports that “the Taliban said Ankara’s plan to keep some troops to guard the airport was ‘reprehensible’ and warned of ‘consequences’ if Turkish officials fail to ‘reconsider their decision and continue the occupation of our country.’”
The statement followed Erdogan’s saying that the United States and Turkey had agreed on the “scope” of a mission to secure the Kabul airport after the withdrawal of foreign troops.
“The Taliban’s stern rebuke to Turkey this week underscores the dramatic power shifts on the ground and group’s diplomatic heft as peace talks are set to resume in Doha, Qatar, later this week,” France24 reported, adding, “the question for many analysts and Turkish nationals is whether the Erdogan administration has bitten off more than it can chew as the Taliban eyes a victory in America’s 20-year ‘forever war.’”
Turkey’s attempt to mend fences with its one time strong friends continued on another front. Al Jazeera reports that, “Turkey and Israel agreed to work towards improving their strained relations after a rare phone call between their presidents, a spokesman for Turkey’s ruling AK Party said on Wednesday.”
The Al Jazeera article noted that “the two countries expelled ambassadors in 2018 after a bitter falling-out. Ankara has condemned Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and its treatment of Palestinians, while Israel has called on Turkey to drop support for the Palestinian group Hamas that governs Gaza.”
While such developments cause rumbles in Athens, analysts believe that the depth and breadth that has been achieved in the friendship and strategic cooperation between Greece, Israel, and Cyprus in recent years will survive what are considered “natural” attempts by neighbors to stabilize relations.
WEAK CURRENCY A WELCOME MAT
On the economic front, Reuters reports that “Arab visitors attracted by quarantine-free travel and a cheap lira are helping bolster a rebound for Turkey's tourism industry, as it struggles to plug the gap left by Britons, for whom the country remains off limits.”
“Turkey's tourism sector accounts for up to 12% of the economy and is a key source of foreign revenue to offset big trade imbalances,” Reuters noted, adding that “last year it got hammered by fallout from the coronavirus. This year activity is forecast to return closer to pre-pandemic levels, despite early-season cancellations after a surge in COVID-19 cases prompted a partial lockdown in May … Flights from Russia, Turkey's biggest source of holidaymakers, re-started last month and Germans, the second-biggest source, are also making reservations, travel industry executives say.”