Turkey and Greece 'want to be an example to world' by building closer ties

Greece's response to the February earthquake has helped to thaw relations between the countries

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During a landmark visit to Greece on Thursday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis agreed to renew their relations and establish a roadmap to closer ties.

The two countries, Nato allies but historical foes, agreed to focus on pursuing good relations, keep open channels of communication and seek military confidence-building measures to eliminate sources of tension.

They also agreed to boost trade and work on problems that have kept them apart, notably in the Aegean Sea.

"There is no issue between us that is unsolvable, so long as we focus on the big picture and don't end up being like those who cross the sea and drown in the river," Mr Erdogan said after meeting Mr Mitsotakis in Athens.

"We want to turn the Aegean into a sea of peace. Through the joint steps we will take as Turkey and Greece, we want to be an example to the world."

After customary arguments over recent years, relations between the neighbours thawed markedly after Greece swiftly sent aid after a devastating earthquake hit Turkey in February.

Thursday's summit was a far cry from Mr Erdogan's last visit, in 2017, where both sides listed historical grievances stretching back to the last days of the Ottoman Empire more than a century ago.

The meeting went on longer than anticipated, and Mr Mitsotakis addressed Mr Erdogan as "Dear Tayyip".

Mr Erdogan said he expected to receive the Greek leader in Ankara.

The Nato allies want to raise bilateral trade to $10 billion from $5 billion, while Mr Erdogan said both countries could benefit from annual, high-level meetings.

"Geography and history have dictated that we live in the same neighbourhood," Mr Mitsotakis said.

"But I feel a historical responsibility to utilise this opportunity to bring the two states side by side, just as our borders are."

Greece and Turkey have long been at odds over issues including where their continental shelves start and end, energy resources, flights over the Aegean Sea, and the partitioned island of Cyprus.

But both countries want to demonstrate that they are willing to repair their relations.

Turkey has been seeking EU membership for more than two decades.

Since being re-elected in May in a tight vote amid an economic crisis, Mr Erdogan has said Turkey remains committed to improving relations with its western partners and allies.

Ankara has been trying to draw foreign investors back, while mending fences with regional and western states, an issue that has long affected the Turkish economy.

After a debt crisis that rocked the euro currency zone, Greece aims to regain its footing and appear as a pillar of eastern Mediterranean stability in a geopolitical environment changing due to the war in Ukraine and the Gaza conflict.

On Thursday, Greece re-established an automatic visa system for Turkish nationals to visit 10 of its islands.

Mr Mitsotakis said meetings would continue and another step in the relaunched bilateral dialogue could be coming closer to a deal to demarcate continental shelves and related economic exclusion zones when conditions allow.

An offshore EEZ could be a precursor to exploration of oil or gas.

Further east, towards Israel, the eastern Mediterranean basin has yielded some of the world's largest natural gas finds in recent years.

The two countries came to the brink of war in the 1990s, and in recent years have argued over energy resources in the Eastern Mediterranean, defence issues, migration and the acquisition of fighter jets, which interrupted co-operation talks.

But "earthquake diplomacy" appears to have turned the tide, again, as it did in similar circumstances in 1999.

Striking an upbeat tone, Mr Erdogan said Turkey and Greece should focus on the positives, and less on the negatives.

"It will be much more beneficial for the future if we look at things from a glass half-full perspective," Mr Erdogan told Greek President Katerina Sakellaropoulou.

Updated: December 08, 2023, 12:19 AM