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Turkey and Greece talk Ukraine, pledge to improve ties

March 13, 2022

NATO members Turkey and Greece are often at loggerheads, but Reccep Tayyip Erdogan and Kyriakos Mitsotakis have agreed that "increased cooperation" was needed given the conflict in Ukraine.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (L) meets with Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis (R) in Istanbul
Erdogan (l) and Mitsotakis (r) emphasized the importance of Turkey Greece cooperation after a meeting in IstanbulImage: Murat Cetin/Turkish Presidential Press Service/AFP

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis have agreed to improve the strained relationship between their countries at a two-hour meeting in Istanbul on Sunday.

The new regard between the two countries is in part due to the war in Ukraine.

"The meeting focused on the benefits of increased cooperation between the two countries" in view of "the evolution of the European security architecture", the Turkish presidency said in a statement.

"We are facing so many challenges at the moment... that the most important thing is to concentrate on what unites us rather than on what divides us," the Greek prime minister told journalists after the meeting.

"We stressed the need to forge a positive agenda," Mitsotakis added.

Why are ties between Greece and Turkey so tense?

Ankara and Athens have been at odds for years over maritime and energy issues, the divided island of Cyprus, the status of the Aegean islands, and various migration issues.

The two NATO states came close to a confrontation in 2020 when Turkey sent a drilling ship to contested Mediterranean waters. The situation eased after Ankara withdrew the vessel.

Officials from both countries resumed exploratory talks in 2021 after a five-year pause to lay the groundwork for formal negotiations to begin but haven't made much progress.

What is the way forward?

"We have big differences which cannot be overcome just like that," Mitsotakis told Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew after meeting Erdogan.

However, he added, "I believe we set the foundations to improve our relations."

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and  Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan met in Istanbul
Mitsotakis said he and Erdogan "set the foundations" for improved relations during a meeting in IstanbulImage: Mustafa Kamaci/Turkish Presidential Press Service/AFP

The Turkish Presidency said the two leaders agreed to keep communication channels open "despite disagreements.'' Erdogan told Mitsotakis the neighbors should speak regularly, rather than only at times of crisis.

Greece said that both sides stressed building a positive agenda mainly in the area of the economy.

The two countries cooperate on energy projects, including a newly-built pipeline that spans their countries transporting natural gas from Azerbaijan to Western Europe.

The project is part of Europe's effort to reduce its dependence on Russian energy exports.

lo/dj (AP, AFP, Reuters)