ANKARA -- The regional Philia (Friendship) Forum that met in Athens was really a transparent guise for Greece to rally forces against Turkey, that country’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Hami Aksoy said.
He called it “an attempt to form an alliance built upon hostility towards Turkey,” as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had also stepped up belligerent talk against Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, in warlike tones.
Mitsotakis said the seven participating countries were planning to have regular contacts and meetings. “It is natural for Greece to seek out this type of cooperation ... multidimensional challenges in our wider neighborhood make it necessary,” he said at the start of the meetings.
Visiting officials from Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates met in Athens with the foreign ministers of Greece, Cyprus and Egypt, who already hold regular contacts, and they were joined by video link by French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian. They have mostly sided with Greece.
“It is not possible for any forum not including Turkey, the key country in its region, and Turkish-Cypriots, to constitute an effective and successful mechanism of cooperation and friendship with regard to the challenges in the region,” said a statement from Aksoy.
“The baseless accusations and slander against Turkey voiced by the Foreign Minister of Greece during the press conference held at the conclusion of this forum, which is allegedly ‘not pitted against anyone,’ demonstrates that this initiative is in fact an attempt to form an alliance built upon hostility towards Turkey, rather than ‘friendship’ as stated, Aksoy said.
The remarks showed the once again rising tension between the countries after a Jan. 25 four-hour chat in Constantinople - the first in four years - began a 61st round of exploratory talks as Turkey said it would continue its plan to drill for oil and gas off Greek islands.
That would be done under a maritime deal with Libya that no other country accepts, which led Greece to counter with a similar agreement with Egypt that broke off plans for talks earlier before the two countries said they would resume.
“Those who caused destabilization in Libya by embracing putschists for the sake of their own maximalist demands and narrow agendas, who are trying to create a terror corridor that can potentially divide Syria and Iraq, and who have remained silent for years regarding the occupation of Azerbaijani territories should not exceed their limits and criticize Turkey’s humanitarian and fair policies in the region,” said Aksoy.
“This attitude displayed towards Turkey is hostile, especially at a time when attempts to establish a sincere and inclusive cooperation in the Eastern Mediterranean are being conducted through Turkey’s proposal for an international conference. It also undermines the EU’s efforts in the context of the Union for the Mediterranean,” he added.
Erdogan has used a tactic of sending an energy research vessel and warships near the Greek island of Kastellorizo, only to withdraw them when the European Union said it would consider sanctions demanded by Greece.
The bloc has twice pulled back from that to give diplomacy a chance - which failed - and possible penalties are tentatively on the agenda again for the next round of non-binding discussions in Athens in March, as the EU will meet too.
Greece has, however, seen Turkey finding allies in the EU, led by Germany - home to 2.774 million people of Turkish heritage - and Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government having lucrative arms deals with Turkey.
That includes selling submarines to Turkey that would take away Greece’s biggest advantage in a conflict - its own nearly-undetectable silent-running German-made submarines.
Amsoy also made reference to Cyprus where Turkey has been drilling for oil and gas in Cypriot waters in defiance of soft EU sanctions, undercutting a planned resumption of talks for reunification - Turkey and Turkish-Cypriots already rejecting that, demanding two states.
Greece has continued plans to modernize its military and in recent months has stepped up armed forces cooperation with France, Egypt, Israel and others.
George Pagoulatos,Director-general of the Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy, an Athens-based think tank, said Greece was hoping to exploit its position as a longstanding member of the EU and NATO to build alliances.
“The participant countries share a support of the territorial status quo and United Nations maritime law, and opposition to border revisionism, religious radicalization, and Turkey’s expansionist role in the eastern Mediterranean,” Pagoulatos, told the Associated Press.
Turkey argues that Greek islands around its coastline should not be included in calculating maritime areas for oil-and-gas exploitation, claiming that it has been unfairly excluded from its fair share of the region’s natural resources. Greece said the decades-old dispute should be resolved through negotiations or at an international court, and has accused Turkey of using its military superiority to try and pressure Greece to make concessions.
(Material from the Associated Press was used in this report)