Greek PM visits Turkey for talks to ease tensions | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, February 06, 2019 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, February 06, 2019

Greek PM visits Turkey for talks to ease tensions

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras visits Turkey, where he will meet with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan for talks to ease tensions over bilateral disputes and the long-running Cyprus problem.

The two leaders were expected to discuss disputed Cyprus energy exploration, Aegean sea issues, a migrant deal and economic cooperation yesterday though analysts see little concrete progress.

"We are going through a difficult period in our relations with Turkey, which is why we have to continue to discuss," Greek government spokesman Dimitris Tzanakopoulos told KritiTV.

"This visit can contribute to de-escalation of tensions."

In December 2017, Erdogan became the first Turkish president to visit Greece in 65 years. But he stunned his hosts when he asked for a revision of the 1923 Lausanne Treaty that defines the borders of modern Turkey after the collapse of Ottoman Empire.

The Turkish leader also denounced "discrimination" of Greece's Muslim minority in northern towns like Komotini, near the border, citing a chapter in the treaty about minority rights, which he said had not been "respected".

"During my visit, I think we will have the opportunity to continue the difficult but frank dialogue that began in December 2017," Tsipras said in an interview with the Turkish state-run news agency Anadolu ahead of the visit.

For Ozgur Unluhisarcikli at the German Marshall Fund of the United States think tank, "the positions (of the two countries) are too far away" to bring concrete results and the main objective would be to see "if there is any space for dialogue in the future".

Tsipras's visit comes a few days after the 23rd anniversary of a 1996 crisis that brought the two countries to the edge of a war over the sovereignty of rocky islets -- called Kardak by Ankara and Imia by Athens.

The trip also comes 20 years after the beginning of a rapprochement in ties in 1999 when Greece rushed to Turkish help following a devastating earthquake that hit Istanbul.

"Even though these talks might not go anywhere, the essence is that there is a pretence of dialogue, and this is important," according to Dimitrios Triantaphyllou, director of the Centre for International and European Studies at Kadir Has University in Istanbul.

"The concrete thing would be a picture of a smiling president and a smiling prime minister reinforcing their willingness to maintain good neighbourhood relations," he said, adding that the visit was "long overdue."

One of the main disputes is the issue of oil and gas exploration of Cyprus, which has been divided between the internationally-recognised Greek southern portion and the breakaway Turkish north for over four decades.

The discovery in recent years of gigantic gas fields in the eastern Mediterranean has whetted the appetite of Cyprus which dreams of eventually becoming a major energy player.

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