Turkey, Greece to cooperate on tangible projects: FM Çavuşoğlu

Turkey and Greece have initiated joint action and cooperation on tangible projects, Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said Monday, underlining that the two countries have agreed on 25 topics for better ties.

Speaking at a joint press conference with his Greek counterpart Nikos Dendias in Athens, Çavuşoğlu underlined the shared desire for improved bilateral relations between the two sides, noting that the regional neighbors will take concrete steps to improve economic relations.

He underlined that the NATO allies agreed on 25 items in the list of areas of cooperation to improve bilateral ties and have begun to work on joint action and cooperation on tangible projects.

“Turkey is ready for dialogue without any preconditions to improve bilateral relations with Greece,” he said.

“We agreed to resolve differences within the framework of good neighborly relations, international law and respect for mutual interests.”

Dendias, for his part, said that Turkey and Greece have serious differences, adding that they aim to reach the first understanding to help ameliorate the situation.

“We are fully aware of the different, and in some very serious issues he diametrically opposed positions, that we have… The purpose of today’s meeting was to attempt an initial negotiation process and if possible, a gradual normalization of the situation over time,” he said.

Both ministers also confirmed that they agreed on mutually recognizing COVID-19 vaccination certificates for travel.

Before meeting with Dendias, Çavuşoğlu was also received by Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, who is expected to meet with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on the sidelines of a NATO summit in June.

“Revitalization of our dialogue channels is a positive step. Enhancing our relations is important to solve our differences,” he said on Twitter.

Dendias said the talks with Çavuşoğlu offered the chance to plan the meeting between Mitsotakis and Erdoğan at the upcoming NATO summit.

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis (R) meets with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu at the Maximos Mansion in Athens, Greece, May 31, 2021. (REUTERS Photo)
Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis (R) meets with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu at the Maximos Mansion in Athens, Greece, May 31, 2021. (REUTERS Photo)


Çavuşoğlu on Sunday departed for a two-day visit to neighboring Greece intent on setting a positive agenda amid tensions over disagreements on the Eastern Mediterranean, the Cyprus issue and the rights of the Turkish minority in Western Thrace.

On the first day of the official visit, Çavuşoğlu met with representatives of the Turkish community in Western Thrace’s Xanthi (Iskeçe) and Komotini (Gümülcine), where he visited the consul general. During his meeting with muftis of the Turkish community in the region, Çavuşoğlu was briefed about the situation of the Turkish-Muslim minority in Greece.

The top diplomat emphasized that Turkey will always stand resolutely with the Turkish minority in their struggle for their rights and underlined once again its strong support.

Greece must refrain from using the European Union as a trump card against Turkey and must embrace the positive momentum between the two countries, Çavuşoğlu also stated Sunday, adding that ongoing problems can only be solved through bilateral dialogue.

It is estimated that there are between 100,000 and 150,000 members of the Turkish community in Western Thrace. The rights of the Turks in the region were guaranteed under the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne, a pact forged in the aftermath of the Turkish War of Independence following World War I. Since then, however, the situation has steadily deteriorated.

After a Greek military junta came to power in 1967, the minority community was subject to more severe persecution and rights abuses by the state. Following Turkey’s 1974 peace operation in Cyprus to protect Turkish Cypriots on the island, the Greek military junta eventually fell, but tight restrictions on the minority group persisted and tightened. the early 1990s, certain rights of the Turkish community on the island were partially restored but issues regarding collective and civil liberties remained intact as new challenges emerged.

Although Çavuşoğlu’s visit aimed to establish a positive agenda, the Greek media has criticized his decision to visit the region of Western Thrace before Athens, claiming the itinerary is “a cause of tension before the official visit.”

After the escalation of tensions last year, the two have sought to gradually improve ties and Dendias visited Turkey in mid-April for talks with Çavuşoğlu.

During Dendias’ visit to Turkey, the foreign ministers held a joint press conference. The press conference began with conciliatory remarks from Çavuşoğlu, who praised “the very positive dialogue” the two just had in the Turkish capital. But the Greek foreign minister used his opening remarks to rattle off a series of long-standing complaints about Turkey – including its search for natural gas in the Eastern Mediterranean, its treatment of the Greek Orthodox minority and the two sides’ ongoing dispute about migrants.

One of the greatest sources of contention between the two NATO allies is a disagreement over rights in the Eastern Mediterranean, including the extent of air and maritime boundaries in the Aegean Sea and the future of the divided island of Cyprus. Turkey and the Turkish Cypriots have ruled out discussing a federal system to reunify the island and insist that a two-state accord is the only way forward.

Turkey, which has the longest continental coastline in the Eastern Mediterranean, has rejected maritime boundary claims made by European Union members Greece and the Greek Cypriot administration, stressing that these excessive claims violate the sovereign rights of both Turkey and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC). Both sides cite a range of decades-old treaties and international agreements to support their conflicting territorial claims.

Earlier this year, Turkey and Greece launched the first direct exploratory talks in nearly five years to address their disputes related to sovereignty rights in the Eastern Mediterranean.