Turkey’s Erdogan visits Greece to forge ‘new era’ after years of friction

Turkish president hopes the NATO allies and neighbours will mend relations despite deep-rooted differences.

Greek President Katerina Sakellaropoulou welcomed Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan
Greek President Katerina Sakellaropoulou welcomed Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at the presidential palace in Athens, Greece [Theodore Manolopoulos/Handout via Reuters]

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is in Greece in an effort to mend strained relations between the neighbouring NATO allies and open what he called a “new era” in relations after years of hostility.

Greece and Turkey have been at odds for decades over issues including where their continental shelves start and end, energy resources, overflights of the Aegean Sea, and ethnically split Cyprus.

On Thursday, the two countries signed a joint declaration to pursue good neighbourly relations.

“Geography and history have dictated that we live in the same neighbourhood … occasionally in confrontation. But I feel a historical responsibility to utilise this opportunity to bring the two states side by side, just as our borders are,” Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said after meeting Erdogan.

Earlier, Erdogan told Greek President Katerina Sakellaropoulou: “I believe that the Turkey-Greece strategic cooperation meeting will lead to a new era” in relations, adding that “we need to be optimistic, and this optimism will be fruitful in the future”.

“It will be much more beneficial for the future if we look at things from a glass half-full perspective,” Erdogan said.

“If we consider what is happening around us, it is necessary probably more than ever that Greece and Turkey work jointly to reinforce prosperity, safeguard peace and stability and respect for international law,” Sakellaropoulou replied.

Erdogan said he aimed to nearly double bilateral trade volume to $10bn (9.3 billion euros) from $5.5bn currently.

Greece and the European Union also hope to update their 2016 migration deal with Ankara.

Greek Migration Minister Dimitris Kairidis this week said the two countries’ coastguards had been cooperating smoothly on migration in past months and suggested the possibility of an agreement with Turkey to station a Turkish officer on the Greek island of Lesbos, and a Greek officer at the western Turkish port of Izmir.

Thursday’s talks are expected to also discuss the Israel-Hamas war, a contentious point on the agenda as Erdogan has shown no sign of abandoning his support of the Hamas group, whereas Mitsotakis has made a clear distinction between Hamas and the Palestinian people.

Issues that have brought Greece and Turkey to the brink of war five times in as many decades are expected to stay off the agenda.

Erdogan’s last visit to Athens, in December 2017, was a disaster. He and then-Greek President Prokopis Pavlopoulos argued over the Lausanne Treaty of 1923, which set the borders between the two countries.

Later, Erdogan and then-Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras traded accusations about the division of Cyprus. Erdogan blamed the Greek side for two failed rounds of talks to reunify the island in 2004 and 2017.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies