The Greek and Turkish leaders spoke over lunch in Istanbul on Sunday in a rare meeting between neighboring countries, which are at odds over maritime and energy issues, the status of the Aegean islands and migration.
Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan discussed bilateral and international relations as well as the Russian invasion of Ukraine, according to a statement from the Communications Directorate of the Turkish Presidency.
“Turkey and Greece have a special responsibility in the European security architecture which has changed with Russia’s attack on Ukraine,” the statement said, adding that the two countries should strengthen their cooperation and “focus on positive programs” for regional benefits.
Greece and Turkey are nominal NATO allies, but have strained relations over competing maritime boundary claims that affect energy exploration rights in the eastern Mediterranean. Tensions erupted in the summer of 2020 over exploratory drilling rights in areas of the Mediterranean Sea where Greece and Cyprus claim their own exclusive economic zone, leading to a naval standoff. Turkey also claims that Greece is violating international agreements by militarizing the Aegean islands.
Since then, Greece has embarked on a major program of military modernization. Officials from the two countries resumed exploratory talks in 2021 after a five-year hiatus to lay the groundwork for launching formal negotiations, but have not made much progress. At Sunday’s meeting, the two leaders agreed to keep communication channels open “despite disagreements” and improve bilateral relations, according to the Turkish statement.
Greece has also accused Turkey of allowing migrants to cross its land and sea borders despite an agreement with the European Union to prevent illegal crossings, while Turkey and rights groups have documented the authorities’ practice. Greek authorities to “return” migrants to Turkey.
“With the aim of opening a new page in bilateral relations,” Erdogan told Mitsotakis, he believes the two countries can make progress on issues such as the Aegean Sea, minorities, counterterrorism and peace. migration. He added that neighbors should talk regularly, rather than in times of crisis.
But Greece and Turkey are also cooperating on energy projects, including a newly built gas pipeline that crosses their countries and carries natural gas from Azerbaijan to Western Europe – a project that is part of Europe’s efforts to reduce dependence on Russian energy exports.
Mitsotakis began his visit by attending a service for Orthodox Christians at the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople.