PM Tsipras: Greece and Turkey have agreed to reduce tension in the Aegean

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras referred to the difficult points of the Greek-Turkish relations in recent times, during a joint press conference with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday following a meeting held earlier between the two.

These, he said, included among others the frequent violations of the Greek national airspace by Turkish aircraft, the case of the eight Turkish officers who requested asylum in Greece following a coup in Turkey, and the two Greek officers who were arrested crossing the borders and released after over five months in custody.

Concerning the case of the eight Turkish officers, Tsipras reiterated that Greek justices made specific decisions that the Greek state, following the rule of law, was obliged to respect. He added that Greece does not welcome people involved in coups. He also noted he was one of the first leaders to call Erdogan following the coup d’ etat attempt in in July 2016 to express the support of Greece, a country defending democracy and freedom.

Despite these thorny issues, Tsipras added, “We did not accept this vicious cycle as our destiny,” but instead recognised that “the challenges we are currently facing in our time and our region do not allow us to remain trapped in dead-end situations”.

“We have agreed that in the coming period we will act to reduce tension in the Aegean sea and to promote confidence-building measures that will help establish mutual trust,” Tsipras continued, stressing that any new relation will have to anchored in respect for international law, the avoidance of threats of war and the mutual understanding of each other’s concerns.”

He then reminded journalists that Erdogan’s visit to Greece in 2017 marked the first time in 65 years a Turkish president was visiting the country, and that he himself has already made four official visits to Turkey.

“I believe that in the future progress can be made and we can repeat our explorative talks on the subject of our outstanding disagreement regarding the continental shelf in the Aegean Sea,” Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said.

On the Cypriot issue, he noted the need for a just and viable solution that will respect the United Nations resolutions; will be to the benefit of Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots alike and will restore Cyprus to normality as a reunited, federal country.

He added that Greece and Turkey need to avoid making the same mistakes as in the past and, to that purpose, should schedule preparatory meetings on the crucial issue of security, which concerns the two countries equally.

Furthermore, Tsipras expressed the desire for energy to provide a bridge for cooperation rather than becoming an obstacle in the region, and said that the two leaders agreed to work towards implementing a sea route connection between Izmir (Smyrna) and Thessaloniki by this summer.

On the cooperation between Turkey and the EU on the migration issue, Tsipras said that the Turkish President and himself talked about reducing flows, as well as the need to increase the number of readmissions and to effectively deal with human traffickers.

He went on to stress that they discussed the prospect of reconsidering the customs union of Turkey with the EU, which would benefit all countries in the area. Greece, Tsipras said, supports Turkey’s European Union accession and added that it would benefit both the country and the EU.

The Greek PM also stated that this is a very important period for Greece, which is “returning to the markets after a long period of crisis, solving problems that have lingered on for decades such as our difference with our northern neighbour, North Macedonia” and underlined the need “to create conditions that will be conducive to a climate of safety, peace and cooperation in the Aegean.”

“We want to place the foundations now in order to be able to build one day,” Tsipras said in conclusion, and stressed that the purpose of his visit to Turkey was to create the circumstances that will make possible future “historical steps in Greek-Turkish relations.”

Erdogan: We expect Greece to respect this and to treat the fugitive officers] accordingly, instead of harboring them

Turkey wishes to develop its relations with Greece in all aspects, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said.

“In our bilateral relations with Turkey there are at times some issues we do not wish to have, but we had the opportunity to overcome these,” Erdogan said, and cited as example the commercial and economic relations between the two countries “that are at a much lower point than our goal.”

The Turkish president expressed the certainty that all issues between the two countries could be resolved on a just basis, and stressed the importance of keeping communication channels open. “We have expanded every effort to improve the situation of Turkish citizens of Greek descent and expect Greece to adopt the same approach,” he said among others.

Commenting on the Cyprus issue, Erdogan said that “the equality before the law of Turks on Cyprus is an important factor,” and noted that before Greece and Turkey start talks “they must set out a road map – we must first of all create a relationship of mutual trust.”

Speaking of the migration issue, he said Turkey has had to shoulder “an unbearable burden,” with the country currently housing 4 million refugees and having spent nearly 35 million dollars. “On the issue of readmission and the migration issue, Turkey has fulfilled its promises,” the Turkish leader said, “as it has the obligations ensuing from the March 18 (EU-Turkey) agreement. We hope the EU keeps its obligations also.”

The Turkish president then referred to the issue of terrorism and said both countries have experienced it and should formulate a joint plan to deal with it, including the PKK and the FETO movement which Turkey considered terrorist organisations. Speaking of the eight Turkish officers who requested asylum in Greece after an unsuccessful coup in July 2016, Erdogan said that one should respect those who lost their lives in the event. “We also expect Greece to respect this and to treat the fugitive [officers] accordingly, instead of harboring them.”

In addition, he said that in terms of Greece, Turkey “will agree on all levels to have an open dialogue; in relation to religious minorities especially, we will make inroads, we will assess them and we will jointly find solutions,” he said.