The first visit of a high-profile Greek minister to Turkey in more than two years comes months after the countries stood on the verge of conflict in the eastern Mediterranean.
Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias will arrive in Ankara on Thursday for a meeting with his counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu that aims, among other items on the agenda, to pave the way for a future summit between the neighbours’ leaders – Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis.
Accepting the invitation last month, Dendias said the talks would also seek common ground to resolve the “sole bilateral dispute” between the NATO allies. “In other words, the delimitation of the exclusive economic zone and continental shelf in the Aegean and the eastern Mediterranean.”
Tensions flared over the summer as Turkish research ships explored for oil and gas reserves in waters claimed by Greece and its close ally Cyprus.
The dispute led to a military standoff at sea as the two countries’ navies shadowed each other. At one point, a collision between Greek and Turkish warships heightened fears of unintended escalation.
Ankara’s relations with the European Union also suffered and Brussels raised the prospect of sanctions in response to Turkey’s “provocative actions” against EU members Greece and Cyprus.
Since then, Turkey has stood down its hydrocarbon survey work in contested waters and two rounds of talks between less senior officials over maritime disputes have been held in Istanbul and Athens – the first such negotiations since 2016.
Erdogan and Cavusoglu have also sought to repair bridges with the EU, hosting European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and Charles Michel, president of the European Council, last week, although the visit was overshadowed by a sexism row about seating arrangements.
Signs of hostility between the neighbours, however, remain just below the surface.
In a tweet sent late Friday, Erdogan’s communications chief Fahrettin Altun posted a video accusing Greece of harbouring “terrorists” who have targeted Turkey, including Kurdish separatists and members of a group accused of organising a coup attempt in 2016.
Turkey has also accused the Greek coastguard of putting lives at risk by forcing migrants trying to reach the Greek islands back into Turkish waters. Meanwhile, Greece has claimed Turkey is facilitating such crossings in breach of a 2016 refugee deal between Ankara and the EU.
Although observers see the talks between Cavusoglu and Dendias as a significant development, they say there is little hope of a serious diplomatic breakthrough on the issues that separate the countries.
“The differences between Turkey and Greece are intricate and intractable,” said Eyup Ersoy, a faculty member at Ahi Evran University’s international relations department in Turkey.
“Therefore, under current conditions, an overall resolution of these differences is impractical. The prudent approach is to reach a mutually acceptable modus vivendi based on common interests.”