Dendias’ wall

The foreign ministers of Greece and Turkey Thursday added a new dimension to the diplomatic cliche “friendly and frank discussions.”

In a joint news conference live from Ankara, Nikos Dendias and Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu spoke warmly about a personal friendship that they have shared for years before presenting their countries’ different positions and attitudes in language that was unprecedented in its directness, its “frankness.”

The Turkish minister was first to speak, then he responded to his counterpart’s comments and again replied to Dendias’ response. He ended the discussion by saying that if it continued the two would be late for the dinner he was hosting in his guest’s honour.

The way the two ministers presented their countries’ positions made clear their very different approaches. Dendias maintained a clearly institutional line, referring to international law, the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea, the values and rules of the EU, UN Security Council resolutions, the Treaty of Lausanne, NATO, and so on.

Çavuşoğlu spoke of a “dialogue without limits or preconditions,” of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s proposal for an international conference on the eastern Mediterranean, and the conference on Cyprus planned for the end of this month in Geneva. He insisted that Greece and Turkey should solve their differences themselves, persisting with Ankara’s effort to isolate Greece from its partners in the EU and other institutions.

Dendias replied firmly: “The European Council is not a ‘third party,’ we are family.” He stressed that Greece is in favour of Turkey’s EU accession, “if this is what Turkey wants,” noting that this demands acceptance of EU values and international law.

After the past 18 months of tension, the Turkish government must have expected the Greek minister to state his country’s positions clearly and in public. The important thing is what will follow.

Will Erdoğan increase the tension or will he realise that with so many problems domestically and in the region, an easing off with Greece will benefit both countries?

Perhaps we may be fortunate to see that a frank discussion and a determined stand will, like the proverbial wall, make for good neighbours.

(A version of this article was originally published by the Kathimerini and reproduced by permission.)