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Politics

Greek, Turkish Defense Ministers Talk: Germany, US Jump into Fray

BRUSSELS – An irked Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan still refuses to talk to Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and broke off communications between the countries but their defense ministers met at a NATO meeting.

Greek defense chief  Nikos Panagiotopoulos and his Turkish counterpart Hulusi Akar, exempt from the no-talking rule, said during a session that the two countries should start talking again to reduce tension.

That was cited by Turkey’s Defense Ministry, said Reuters, the two saying their countries should focus on diplomacy – which hasn’t worked – and no explanation how there could be dialogue if Erdogan won’t take part.

The brouhaha was over Erdogan upset that Mitsotakis, in an address to the US Congress, urged lawmakers – without naming Turkey – not to approve President Joe Biden’s plan to sell Turkey more F-16s that could be used against Greece.

Erdogan and Akar have also demanded that Greece remove troops off Aegean islands near Turkey’s coast, citing the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne they don’t recognize unless repeatedly invoking to their advantage.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, who refused to intervene over Turkish violations of Greek airspace, has been walking a political tightrope, siding with both countries but saying Turkey should stop airspace violations.

Both sides have written the United Nations, which has shown no interest in getting involved, complaining about each other but no report if there was a response or it just an ignored diplomatic exercise.

Erdogan announced that Turkey was halting all bilateral talks with Greece that started in 2021, picking up again after a break of several years, but 65 rounds having failed to make any real progress

Mitsotakis said that Turkey questioning Greece’s sovereignty over its Aegean islands is “absurd,” and makes it difficult for there to be negotiations but he’s still willing to try even if Erdogan isn’t.

He also said the two leaders would inevitably meet at some point and they should not stop talking to each other but Erdogan, apparently emboldened by the European Union’s tepid backing of Greece, hasn’t shown he’s willing.

Germany, which was reluctant to support Mitsotakis as it’s home to 2.774 million people of Turkish heritage and sells arms to Turkey, changed tune to back Greece, during fury from Turkey.

Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesperson Tanju Bilgic said that, “It is unacceptable for the German spokesperson to make unfounded allegations against our country, even though Greece is the party that violates our country’s airspace, conducts flights over our mainland and harasses our airplanes.

“We would like to remind you that Turkey is not the party that announced that it has frozen meetings using the latest tension as an excuse. We invite you once again not to make any biased comments,” Bilgic said, apparently not knowing it was Turkey that stopped the meetings.

The United States, which renewed a military cooperation deal with Greece and wants more bases in the country – but wants to arm Turkey – rejected Turkey’s demand for demilitarization of Greek Aegean islands near Turkey.

At a regular briefing in Washington, a Turkish journalist asked State Department spokesman Ned Price: “Greece is increasingly arming the islands just miles away from Turkey that are limited under certain agreements. What is the US position under – on this topic, and do you endorse this militarization of islands?”

Price replied: “Our position on this is the same one you heard a couple weeks ago, and the sovereignty and territory – territorial integrity of all countries should be respected and protected,” said Kathimerini.

“We continue to encourage our NATO allies – Greece and Turkey in this case – to work together to maintain peace and security in the region and to resolve their differences diplomatically. We urge our allies to avoid rhetoric that could further raise tensions. Greece and Turkey, of course, are both strong partners. They’re key NATO allies to the United States, and we will continue to urge both of them to de-escalate tensions,” he said.

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