Greece seeks to keep diplomatic channels open with Turkey

Greece will seek to maintain channels of communication with Turkey but will also be prepared to defend its national interests, Greek newspaper Kathimerini said citing government sources after a high-level meeting.

Diplomacy with Turkey was the major theme during a meeting on Wednesday between Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and Greece’s Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias and Defence Minister Nikos Panagiotopoulos, Kathimerini said. 

The meeting came at a time of heightened tension between Ankara and Athens.

Greece fears a repeat of this year’s border standoff with Turkey may be imminent, as Turkey enters a process of normalisation after the rate of new coronavirus infections fell. 

Turkey announced in late February it would no longer prevent migrants from trying to reach Europe, and thousands of migrants subsequently clashed with Greek border forces in March as they attempted to cross. Turkey closed its border with Greece in mid-March as part of measures to deal with the outbreak of COVID-19 but has recently hinted at re-opening it to refugees and migrants. 

Tensions between Turkey and Greece have also been growing over recent weeks due to a dispute over gas exploration rights off the coast of Cyprus, and Turkish violations of Greek airspace.

Turkey has also been angered by Greece’s recent moves to extend a 12.5 km-long razor wire fence along the frontier on disputed territory. Earlier this month, Turkish troops occupied a disputed 1.6-hectare floodplain on the Greek side of the River Evros (known as the river Meriç in Turkey) at Melissokomeio.

In a sign that Turkey was seeking to de-fuse tensions over the disputed patch of land, the Turkish ambassador to Athens Burak Özügergin called it a technical issue that often arises on land borders, Kathimerini said. 

“This is not an issue. Let’s not turn it into an issue,” Özügergin said.

Meanwhile, Greece’s Citizens’ Protection Minister Michalis Chrysochoidis stressed on Wednesday that Greece intends to press on with plans to extend its fence on the border to prevent an influx of refugees and migrants trying to cross into the European Union. 

“The fence will be built in defence of our country’s interests,” Kathimerini quoted Chrysochoidis as saying.