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Greek and Turkish leaders seek to highlight thaw in relations, but tensions remain beneath the surface

Greek and Turkish leaders seek to highlight thaw in relations, but tensions remain beneath the surface


ISTANBUL (AP) Greek and Turkish leaders met Monday for talks aimed at highlighting their efforts to put aside decades-old differences, but they also revealed deep divisions over the war between Israel and Hamas.

Speaking at a news conference in Ankara after the two-hour face-to-face summit, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan pounced on comments by Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis in which he called Hamas a terrorist organization.

I do not consider Hamas a terrorist group, Erdogan said. I see it as a group of people trying to protect their own land. He also revealed that Turkey was currently treating more than 1,000 Hamas members in its hospitals.

Greece, like most Western states, considers Hamas a terrorist organization, but Erdogan has reiterated his reference to the group as a resistance organization.

The leaders were meeting for the fourth time in the past year with the aim of strengthening the normalization process.

Turkey and Greece, which are NATO members, have been at odds for decades over a range of issues, including territorial claims in the Aegean Sea and drilling rights in the Mediterranean, and have been on the brink of war three times during the last semester. century. A dispute over energy exploration rights in 2020 led the two countries' warships to clash in the Mediterranean.

They agreed last December to put their differences aside and focus on areas where they can find consensus. The list of items on the so-called positive agenda includes trade, energy, education and cultural ties.

Since that summit in Athens, the regional rivals have maintained regular high-level contacts to promote remedial initiatives, such as allowing Turkish citizens to visit 10 Greek islands without cumbersome visa procedures.

Highlighting ties between the two countries, Mitsotakis said the deal allowed Turks and Greeks to “get to know each other, which is an important step.”

Likewise, Erdogan spoke of the Turkish-Muslim minority in the Greek region of Thrace as a bridge of friendship between the two communities.

Earlier, he described the normalization process as beneficial to both countries and the region. Dialogue channels remain open and we focus on the positive agenda, Erdogan said, adding that they are trying to increase trade volumes from $6 billion to $10 billion.

The propensity for quarrels, however, remains. The recent opening of a former Greek Orthodox church in Istanbul to serve as a mosque has led Greece to accuse Turkey of insulting the character of a world heritage site.

Turkey, meanwhile, has criticized a Greek plan unveiled last month for marine parks in parts of the Ionian and Aegean seas. Ankara said the unilateral declaration was a measure that sabotaged the normalization process.

But such low-level disputes are a far cry from relations a few years ago, when energy exploration in the eastern Mediterranean culminated in a naval confrontation and Erdogan's promise to end negotiations with the government by Mitsotakis.

The two countries are also locked in a dispute over Cyprus, divided since 1974 between its ethnic Greek and Turkish populations. For the past seven years, Turkey has rejected a long-standing deal for a reunified Cyprus under a federal system. Instead, Ankara and the Turkish Cypriot administration, which is only recognized by Turkey, proposed a two-state solution.

Despite sharp differences over the war between Israel and Hamas, Erdogan and Mitsotakis are keen to contain further instability in the Mediterranean as Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine continues.

The recent thaw in relations was partly helped by Greek solidarity after last year's devastating earthquake in southern Turkey. Erdogan launched a broader effort to reconnect with Western countries after an election victory last year that allowed him to extend his two-decade rule by five years.

Speaking before the meeting, Greek government spokesperson Pavlos Marinakis said the leaders would review progress in bilateral relations and agreed areas of cooperation.

Our country seeks to maintain the climate of dialogue with the neighboring country, he said, adding that we believe that dialogue is only positive for both countries.


Elena Becatoros contributed to this report from Athens, Greece.




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