Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said he will stop talking to Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and cancel a key meeting between their two governments, accusing the Greek leader of antagonising Turkey.
In a televised address following a cabinet meeting on Tuesday, Erdogan accused Mitsotakis of recommending to US officials that Washington not sell F-16 fighter jets to Turkey during a recent visit to the United States.
Erdogan then went on to accuse Greece of harbouring followers of US-based religious leader Fethullah Gulen, who Turkey says was behind a failed coup attempt in 2016, and of establishing military bases against Turkey. Gulen has long denied the Turkish allegation.
“We had agreed to not include third countries in our dispute with him. Despite this, last week, he had a visit to the US and talked at the Congress and warned them not to give F-16s to us,” Erdogan said.
“He no longer exists for me. I will never agree to meet with him. We will continue our way with honourable politicians.”
Erdogan was apparently referring to a speech Mitsotakis delivered in Washington on May 17, when he told Congress that the US should avoid creating a new source of instability on NATO’s southeastern flank.
“The last thing that NATO needs at a time when our focus is on helping Ukraine defeat Russia’s aggression is another source of instability on NATO’s southeastern flank,” the Greek leader said. “And I ask you to take this into account when you make defence procurement decisions concerning the eastern Mediterranean.”
Greece ‘won’t get into confrontation’
Responding to Erdogan’s comments, Greek government spokesman Yiannis Economou said Athens “will not get into a confrontation of statements with Turkey’s leadership.”
“Greek foreign policy is strongly founded on history, international law and our alliances, however much that may annoy some,” he said.
Greece’s Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias defended Mitsotakis’ speech, saying “nothing was said that lies outside the limits of standard Greek positions”.
“We have always referred to all the leaders of countries, and to President Erdogan, with due respect for the leader of a foreign country,” Dendias told Skai Radio.
Greece and Turkey are NATO allies but have strained relations over a slew of issues, including competing maritime boundary claims that affect energy exploration rights in the eastern Mediterranean.
Tensions flared in 2020 over exploratory drilling rights in areas in the Mediterranean Sea where Greece and Cyprus claim their own exclusive economic zone, leading to a naval standoff.
Turkey also claims Greece is violating international agreements by militarising islands in the Aegean Sea. Athens says it needs to defend the islands – many of which lie close to Turkey’s coast – against a potential attack using Turkey’s large fleet of military landing craft.
Officials from both countries resumed exploratory talks in 2021 after a five-year pause to lay the groundwork for formal negotiations to begin, but haven’t made much progress.
Greece this month formally extended its bilateral military agreement with the US for five years, replacing an annual review of the deal that grants the US military access to three bases in mainland Greece as well as the American naval presence on the island of Crete.
“Who is Greece threatening with these bases? Why is Greece establishing these bases?” Erdogan asked.
Erdogan also reiterated that Turkey made a mistake by re-accepting Greece into NATO’s military wing in 1980.
The Turkish leader has also recently lashed out at Sweden’s and Finland’s requests to join NATO, saying Turkey would not support their bids.