AA News

Athens meeting a ‘breakthrough’ in push to revive Türkiye-Greece ties: Experts

Talks between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis in Athens last week set the ground for substantial progress in efforts to improve relations between the neighbors, according to Greek and Turkish experts.

Kostas Ifantis, a professor of international relations at Panteion University in Athens, said the latest talks marked a significant “breakthrough” that came “after a long period of tension and mistrust.”

Highlighting the importance of the Athens Declaration on Friendly Relations and Good-Neighborliness that the two sides signed during the visit on Thursday, he said the document holds “symbolic, diplomatic, and political significance.”

“So, it is a platform and then, we can move on to the second part” of potential rapprochement and substantive dialogue to address the “real issues” between the countries, Ifantis told Anadolu at the recently held TRT World Forum in Istanbul.

According to Zuhal Mert Uzuner, an associate professor of political science and international relations at Istanbul’s Marmara University, the most important issue between the two countries is that of Cyprus, an Eastern Mediterranean island mired in a decades-long dispute between Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots, despite a series of diplomatic efforts to achieve a comprehensive settlement.

Describing the problem as “very poisonous” since it emerged in the 20th century, she said Ankara and Athens had now come to “a kind of consensus” to keep the dispute frozen in terms of bilateral relations.

Espousing a broad view of the improvement in ties, she emphasized the need to consider regional dynamics in achieving normalization.

“It’s obvious that there is a kind of progress,” she noted, pointing to the declaration that she said could serve as a foundation of confidence-building upon which to further build bilateral relations.

Strategic “high-level meetings and exploratory talks” will also be crucial mechanisms to “understand each other’s standpoint,” she said, adding that Erdogan’s visit to Greece created a good momentum for progress.

‘Very critical for the future of Greece’

On what Athens hopes to achieve from the warming of ties, Ifantis stressed that after a decade of “financial meltdown and crisis,” Greece’s priorities lie in domestic rebuilding of resilience, reforming its state, moving towards sustainability, and addressing other “huge” economic challenges.

“So, a good relationship, a normal peaceful relationship with Türkiye is essential in order to devote the energy, both of the society and of the government to the domestic agenda,” he explained, adding that this would be “very critical for the future of Greece.”

On the other hand, the previous “tensions and crises” in the relations imparted a valuable lesson that “there can be no winner” in a confrontation between them, according to Ifantis.

“Both countries will suffer. Both countries will lose out. So, it is about time to make a more sustained effort towards meeting each other and compromising,” he said, adding that while there was still much distance to cover, recent developments have been a crucial “first step.”

Uzuner likewise struck a cautious tone, emphasizing that it would not be easy to “solve everything through diplomacy in a short period of time.”

“But on the other side, we see this meeting created a kind of change in public opinion on both sides, because after so many years of crisis, both public opinions were so tense,” she said.

Greek prime minister ‘determined to push forward’

Ifantis also noted that on a leadership level, Greece’s Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis is well-placed to pursue further steps with Türkiye.

“The government is strong, the opposition is weak,” he said, suggesting that any opposition to Turkish-Greek rapprochement would likely come from within the ruling party, specifically from its “extreme elements.”

A part of the opposition, meanwhile, would be very supportive, he said, adding that a majority of Greek society would also be in favor of a rapprochement that is for “both Greece and Türkiye.”

If progress is made “slowly and carefully, no tension, and we can build trust, I think Mitsotakis is determined to push forward,” he said.

‘One better than zero’

On future prospects, Ifantis initially expressed a preference for “calm” and voiced aspiration for an “enhancement of relations in trade, culture, and the economy.”

“Although we are neighbors, we have not been engaging each other as much as we should have,” he said, highlighting the need to foster economic, trade, tourism, and cultural ties.

He acknowledged that there was a prevalent mindset in both Greece and Türkiye with a perception of potential “cheating” by the other side.

“We need to be very careful,” he cautioned.

For Uzuner, focus at the current moment should be on incremental progress.

“We should think that one is better than zero,” she said, proposing starting with “softer issues” like the “economy and tourism,” rather than larger geopolitical disputes concerning issues like maritime delimitation in the Aegean Sea or Cyprus.

Advocating for a positive approach, she urged being “supportive of the process” and wariness of potential “spoilers.”

Despite the common challenges facing the two nations, these are “an opportunity in crisis,” she said.

The “common action points” include environmental degradation, a Green Deal, and the Customs Union between Europe and Türkiye, she added.

On regional stability, Ifantis remarked a breakthrough in Greek-Turkish relations, would “certainly” benefit the Eastern Mediterranean greatly.

He recommended that the sides concentrate on feasible actions, saying they should “stick to what we can do,” without falling into “high expectations.”

Uzuner acknowledged the challenges in the region, particularly those related to third-party actors in Greece-Türkiye relations, like the US and EU.

On major economic issues, she noted the significance of renewing the Customs Union and stressed the need for “progress from the perspective of Europe,” including on the relationship with the Greek Cypriot administration of Southern Cyprus as an EU member state.