ATHENS – A day after Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias – directed by Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis – fired away at Turkey in a news conference with that country’s foreign chief – Greece said it wanted to return to “promoting a positive agenda,” a message having been delivered.
“There have always been and there will always be disagreements” in Turkey’s relations with Greece and the European Union, the ministry said in a statement trying to soothe ruffled feathers.
“At the same time however … the Mitsotakis government has a clear will to promote a positive agenda in relations between the two countries and cooperation on a range of issues,” it said.
Apparently trying to ratchet down the tension after Turkey wasn’t happy that Dendias sniped to reporters in undiplomatic language, Greece’s ministry said it wants to turn to talk about safer matters, such as trade.
After Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan humiliated European Union leaders who went to Ankara for an audience with him and backed off talk of sanctions, as did Mitsotakis – the Greek Premier apparently wanted to make a statement.
Turkey said it would go ahead with plans to hunt for energy off Greek islands but Mitsotakis, after calling for penalties, retreated from them to give diplomacy a chance but Erdogan seized the opening to become more belligerent.
Mitsotakis, who the paper said told Dendias to come out firing, later met with his foreign chief to talk about the showdown with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu who had fired back before journalists.
The face-off lasted more than half an hour and was unusual for its confrontational style that came after the usual diplomatic mutual back slapping and talk designed to say nothing in a safe mode.
Dendias had earlier met with Erdogan as well but the paper said no progress was made in the dispute over the rights to the Aegean and East Mediterranean, including two chit chats, one in Ankara and the other in Athens in exploratory talks that went nowhere fast.
But diplomats still were surprised that Greece took a stand although the government almost immediately tried to tone down what happened to prevent a further flare-up.
“The mood of the talks was fine, in spite of disagreements,” a source from the Turkish Foreign Ministry told the newspaper, also in an apparent move trying to downplay what everyone saw what happened.
“During the press conference, we were keeping a moderate tone and discussing the issues in a broad way. However, Dendias began to bring up various issues, something that had not been planned,” the source said.
“We could not leave this unanswered; we had to express our positions,” the source said without being identified and using contradictory language.
Dendias accused Turkey of violating Greece’s sovereign rights in the Eastern Mediterranean, warning of EU sanctions that Greece wanted then didn’t and now said were back on the table, Erdogan saying he didn’t care anyway.
This prompted Cavusoglu’s reaction who called Dendias’ remarks “unacceptable,” after Turkey had gained the upper hand against Greece and the EU with sanctions talk set aside.
Greek diplomats not named told the paper that Dendias’ criticism of Turkey wasn’t really criticism and that the issues raised had to be made public before Greece tried to walk back some of the talk.