Greek PM Tsipras hopes Turkey visit eases Aegean tensions

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras will visit Turkey this week for talks likely focused on disputed territorial waters in the Aegean and a possible moratorium on aerial and naval military manoeuvres in the area.

Greek diplomatic sources in Athens said Tsipras would inform Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan during his Feb. 5 visit of Athens’ unilateral decision to expand its territorial waters to 12 miles in the eastern Adriatic and Ionian seas.

Italy and Albania, Greece’s neighbours in the region, have already been officially informed of the decision and the Greek government is expected to officially announce the move after Tsipras visits Turkey.

But the Greek prime minister will also assure Erdoğan, the sources said, that there would be no expansion of Greek territorial waters in the Aegean and around the island of Crete.

Diplomats at the Greek Foreign Ministry, who asked not to be named due to the delicacy of the matter, said both the United States and Russia had warned Athens not to expand its territorial waters in the Aegean and around Crete. It appears Greece has taken the American and Russian warnings seriously.

Also high on the agenda is the almost daily military tension between Greek and Turkish forces in the waters of the Aegean and the skies above.

Athens is to suggest a “serious reactivation” of bilateral diplomatic talks between the two countries, the sources said. The talks have been clinically dead for years.

With a tense election period coming up in Greece, Tsipras is looking for an effective moratorium of between six to 12 months to ease tensions in the Aegean Archipelago.

On the Cyprus issue, Greek diplomats are aware that the long-running issue is heading towards its final stage. That can only be reached by adopting the institutional division of the island into two totally sovereign states with a very light connections between them, mostly of local economic and administrative importance.

Current developments and international complexities in the eastern Mediterranean have obliged the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot communities on the island, as well as Greece and Turkey, to accept the undisputable facts and come to terms with the realities.

This is also the general mood in Nicosia in recent months. One of those realities is the security ties that Nicosia is slowly building with NATO countries, especially the United States and France, though Nicosia is definitely not looking to join the NATO alliance.

Greek–Cypriot diplomacy is committed to a model of bilateral strategic agreements. Another reality is the security measures taken by Turkey in breakaway Turkish Cypriot northern Cyprus.

Greek diplomatic sources insist on the importance of the Tsipras– Erdoğan tête-à-tête. “It is the right timing,” one Greek diplomat said. “It is absolutely necessary more than ever before.''

Tsipras is fresh from resolving a 23-year-old dispute with Greece’s northern neighbour, with an agreement to call it the Republic of North Macedonia to differentiate it from Greece’s northern province of Macedonia. Tsipras now feels ready to jump into the thorny issue of relations with Turkey, hoping his diplomatic skills will win over Erdoğan and ease tensions.

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Ahval.