IT WAS very peculiar to see Presidents Prokopis Pavlopoulos and Tayyip Erdogan discussing Greece and Turkey’s differences in front of the television cameras. They were sat next to each other on a sofa with their respective associates on their sides, and instead of exchanging diplomatic pleasantries, from the word go, the Treaty of Lausanne was brought up.
Erdogan had spoken of the need to modify the treaty in an interview he gave ahead of his Greece visit and Pavlopoulos felt obliged to give his views on the matter, which led to a public exchange in front the cameras. Many reports described this as a “historical row” while others called it “open diplomacy.” One thing was clear, this was unprecedented during a state visit. This was a topic that should have been discussed behind closed doors, between Erdogan and Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, but Pavlopoulos felt obliged to bring it up, even though he admitted it was not his job to do so.
After the live diplomacy for television audiences, Tsipras and Erdogan met for two hours on their own, joined by their interpreters, and engaged in proper discussions. They agreed on the resumption of the talks between the two sides on a range of long-standing issues including the dispute over the continental shelf and the promotion of a series of infrastructure projects, according to the Greek government. In the joint news conference of the two leaders took were more antagonistic both on the issue of the Aegean and the Cyprus problem.
While most commentators saw nothing positive to report, claiming the visit was much ado about nothing and that Erdogan’s primary objective was to bring Turkey out of its isolation, it is rash to dismiss the first visit of a Turkish president to Greece in 65 years so easily. The fact that the two countries will resume discussions on settling long-standing differences is a positive step. It might lead nowhere, like similar initiatives of the past, but discussion of differences is much better than confrontation and the building up of tension. It is a start.
The Cyprus problem does not seem to have been given much time even though it was mentioned during the joint news conference after journalists’ questions. They both agreed that a fair and viable settlement was the objective, and blamed each other for the failure to achieve it, which was no surprise. The Cyprus government, said Tsipras would give a full briefing to Anastasiades when the two meet in Brussels next week but we doubt he will have much to report as Erdogan’s visit was about Greece-Turkey relations.