Greek-Turkish ties come under strain

16.07.2020

The already tense relationship between Greece and Turkey has been strained further in the wake of Ankara’s leaking of a supposedly secret meeting between Greek, Turkish and German officials following Turkey’s controversial decision to convert Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia into a mosque and amid an increasingly aggressive Turkish stance in the East Mediterranean.

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis on Wednesday spoke by telephone with German Chancellor Angela Merkel ahead of a European Union summit scheduled to begin Friday in Brussels and they reportedly discussed Greek-Turkish relations.

Although the key issue on the summit’s agenda is an EU recovery fund for the fallout of the coronavirus pandemic, Athens is expecting EU leaders to issue a clear and stern position on Turkey’s growing aggression.

Meanwhile Turkey issued a new navigational telex reserving areas in Cyprus’ exclusive economic zone for hydrocarbons exploration. With Navtex number 950/20, Ankara signaled its intention to move its drillship Yavuz further south, into Cypriot waters, to start hydrocarbon exploration on July 18 and continue until August 18.

Referring to Turkey’s announcement to start exploring in Cyprus’ EEZ, German Foreign Ministry spokesperson Christopher Burger said it was a “wrong message,” adding that the EU expected from Turkey “a positive message to deescalate the situation in the Eastern Mediterranean.”

The spokesman declined to comment on the secret three-way meeting that Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu revealed in an apparent attempt to undermine the initiative.

In a related development, Turkey’s ambassador in Athens, Burak Ozugergin, once again repeated Ankara’s demand for the extradition of eight Turkish servicemen who fled to Greece during the failed coup in Turkey in 2016.

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Speaking on the anniversary of the botched coup, Ozugergin called on Greece to refrain from using the logic of “my enemy’s enemy is my friend.” He added that it was a mistake to turn Turkey’s decision to convert Hagia Sophia into mosque into a bilateral issue or a clash between cultures and religions.

As preparations got under way in Istanbul for Hagia Sophia to host Muslim prayers next Friday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo expressed his disappointment with the decision.