Greece and Turkey downplay divisions ahead of fresh Cyprus talks

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras (R) welcomes Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim (L) during their meeting in Athens Greece, on 19 June 2017. [Oresti Panagiotou/ EPA]

Greece and Turkey put a territorial dispute in the Aegean on the back-burner in talks in Athens on Monday (19 June). The two countries’ prime ministers instead focused on their common commercial interests ahead of another round of UN-sponsored talks on Cyprus.

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and Turkish counterpart Binali Yıldırım agreed to strengthen ties in tourism, transport and energy during talks held at the Greek leader’s official Athens residence.

The two countries are also working closely together on the TAP and Turkish Stream gas pipelines to carry gas into Europe through Turkey.

But the leaders did not hide their differences over a territorial dispute in the Aegean when speaking to journalists after their meeting.

While focusing on deepening commercial ties, the two countries need to work on resolving the Aegean dispute, said Tsipras.

He claimed that Turkish violations of Greek airspace and territorial waters in the Aegean Sea had increased over the last nine months.

“The Aegean must remain a sea of peace and stability,” said Tsipras.

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But territorial violations had occurred on both sides, according to Yıldırım, who said it was best to focus on areas of agreement.

He thanked Tsipras for his support in Turkey’s bid to join the European Union while repeating his call for the EU to make good on its side of an agreement with Ankara to cut the flow of migrants from Turkish coasts into Europe.

Brussels had offered Turkey a three-billion euro package and a visa waiver for Turkish nationals if they helped migrants on Turkish soil so they did not move on into Europe.

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The two leaders were cautious about upcoming talks on the thorny question of Cyprus, saying they hoped for a “fair and viable solution”.

The United Nations is leading a new international meeting on the subject in Switzerland on 28 June.

UN envoy Espen Barth Eide is pushing for a quick resolution of the question, calling the upcoming talks an “historic opportunity”.

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Russia’s Ambassador to the EU Vladimir Chizhov has reacted angrily to an article claiming that his country made efforts to spoil the Cyprus reunification deal, saying that attempts to shift the blame for the failure of talks are “both unfair and misleading”.

Guarantor powers Greece, Turkey and the United Kingdom will also attend the conference, as will a representative of the European Union as an observer.

The eastern Mediterranean island has been divided since 1974, when Turkish troops invaded the north of the country in response to an Athens-inspired coup seeking union with Greece.

“We are seeking to open the way to providing solutions,” Tsipras said of the upcoming talks.

Turkish language still far away from official EU status

In early 2016, Cyprus asked the EU to recognise Turkish as an official language, in an attempt to boost its reunification process. Over one year later, this request has made little headway.

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