ATHENS – After Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan cagily got the European Union to put sanctions on hold over his plans to drill for energy off Greek islands, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said he's anticipating upcoming negotiations but unsure whether it's another trick.
Greece welcomes a “first step” from Turkey towards the de-escalation of tension, “but whether it is a sincere move or a short-lived maneuver remains to be seen,” Mitsotakis said, following talks in Athens with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg.
“It is up to Turkey to close the path to crisis and to open the path to a solution,” he told reporters, stressing that Turkish violations in the Eastern Mediterranean “threaten peace and stability in the region, but also the cohesion of NATO itself” and are “not only a bilateral issue.”
Mitsotakis had insisted on sanctions being imposed after Turkey sent the energy research vessel the Oruc Reis and warships off the Greek island of Kastellorizo but after Erdogan pulled them back – to give diplomacy a chance he said – the Greek leader withdrew his demands to allow negotiations, in Ankara, not Athens.
“Through the constructive engagement of Greece and Turkey at NATO headquarters, we have now established a bilateral military deconfliction mechanism. This includes a commitment to use a secure hotline between Greece and Turkey, available 24 hours a day to facilitate deconfliction at sea and in the air,” said Stoltenberg.
The defense alliance chief has long refused to intervene over repeated Turkish violations of Greek airspace and waters by fighter jets and warships and stepped in only to help prevent a conflict between two NATO alleged allies.
“The deconfliction mechanism can help to create space for diplomatic efforts. It is my firm hope that the underlying disputes between two allies can now be addressed purely through negotiations, in the spirit of allied solidarity and international law,” he added over tactics that have repeatedly failed with Erdogan.
Another sore point that affects Greece has been Turkey's purchase of the S-400 missile defense from Russia – an ideological enemy of NATO – that was used to track Greek fighter jets returning from exercises on Cyprus.
Stoltenberg said, “This has implications for our security so we must address it together,” using careful diplomatic talk to offend no one and say nothing of substance.
Mitsotakis said the S-400 is a threat to Greece and that it also affects the regional interests of the United States which sided with Greece over Turkey's plans to drill for energy but sided with Turkey in saying the Greek waters are “disputed.”