Greek PM optimistic “difficult” meeting with Erdoğan will ease tensions

A meeting on Thursday with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was not easy, but has improved chances of Turkey returning the two Greek soldiers it has held since March, Greek newspaper quoted Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras as saying.

Tsipras on Wednesday called Turkey’s imprisonment without charges of the pair, who Greece insists accidentally strayed onto Turkish territory due to bad weather, an “open wound” during his address to NATO.

His discussion with Erdoğan on Thursday was “not the easiest of meetings,” but Greece “(has) more hope than before the meeting” of securing the soldiers’ return, Tsipras reportedly told a press conference, without referring to any Turkish commitment on the matter.

Tsipras has previously accused Erdoğan of holding the soldiers as “hostages” to secure leverage over Greece, particularly in the matter of eight Turkish servicemen who sought asylum in the country after the failed July 2016 coup attempt.

“I stressed, once more, I made clear, that in Greece, the Greek judiciary is totally independent,” Kathimerini quoted Tsipras as saying, adding that no coup plotters were welcome in his country.

The Greek prime minister discussed other areas of tension with Erdoğan, and said the two sides had agreed on measures to de-escalate tensions in the Aegean Sea, where the Turkish and Greek navies and air forces have been involved in confrontations sparked by resumed disputes over islands in the sea.