Turkey and Greece aim to ‘normalise’ relations after row over Muslim remarks

Leaders of both countries will meet at Nato summit next month

epa09238686 Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu (L) talks next to Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias (R) during joint statements after their meeting, in Athens, Greece, 31 May 2021. Cavusoglu is in Athens on a working visit.  EPA/YANNIS KOLESIDIS
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Greece and Turkey have pledged to smooth differences after a public spat between their foreign ministers over the status of the Muslim minority in Greece.

Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias said the country’s prime minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, will meet Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at a Nato summit next month, signalling a step forward for the historic rivals.

The two countries have been at odds on many issues, from competing territorial claims in the Eastern Mediterranean to migrant boats and the status of Cyprus. They came close to armed conflict last year, but tensions have since eased.

On Sunday, the two countries traded barbs over the status of the Muslim minority in Greece.

Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu described the Muslim population in the Greek region of Thrace as “Turkish”.

He then used the phrase “Turkish minority” five times on Twitter detailing his talks with representatives of the Muslim community and a visit to a school in Thrace.

Ankara has often accused Greece of failing to sufficiently look after Muslims in Thrace, many of whom are of Turkish descent.

During brief remarks on Monday, Mr Dendias acknowledged the countries were on separate paths.

"We are fully aware of the different, and in some very serious issues, diametrically opposed positions that we have," he said.

"The purpose of today's meeting was to attempt an initial negotiation process and if possible, a gradual normalisation of the situation over time."

Mr Cavusoglu said Turkey wanted to pursue talks with Greece "without prerequisites and without terms”.

He also said they decided to recognise each other's Covid-19 vaccination certificates to permit travel between the countries.

"I would like to say that, as Turkey, we have the will for these actions and I am happy to see the same will from Greece," he said.