THE NEWS that Turkey’s Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu would be visiting Athens on 5 and 6 December for meetings with his Greek counterpart Antonis Samaras was not very well-received in Cyprus. Some of Cyprus’ hardline media were taken aback by the announcement which came only a few days after Samaras’ visit to Cyprus and the Cairo summit at the weekend that had been hailed as the start of a new era of regional alliances.
One newspaper claimed that “at a time when Turkey was becoming isolated politically because of its raids into Cyprus’ EEZ, Greece has come to rescue it by agreeing to talks with it. This was hard to swallow at a time when “the Greek Cypriot side has suspended its participation in the bi-communal talks as a result of the violation of its sovereign rights.” Another columnist warned that the Davutoglu-Samaras meeting would be “high risk” if there were “no indications that there was a differentiation of Turkey’s positions or the intention to defuse the tension it had caused.”
The Cyprus government said that Athens had informed Nicosia about the meeting. It also said that Samaras and President Anastasiades had agreed that the December meeting in Athens could help reduce the tension cause by the Barbaros’ incursions into the Cyprus EEZ. Cypriot party leaders had also been informed by Samaras last week and only two of them expressed any reservations. They had argued that there should be no contacts with Turkey as this would create the impression that the violations of Cyprus’ EEZ were a minor problem.
We suspect that the Samaras-Davutoglu meeting would have gone ahead even if all the Cypriot party leaders had objected to it. Greece’s foreign minister Evangelos Venizelos said that his government did not want to change the timeframe for scheduled meetings of the Greece-Turkey Cooperation Council. The maintenance of channels of communication was to the benefit of both Greece and Cyprus he added.
He was absolutely right, even if two Cypriot party leaders and some newspaper columnists believed otherwise. If the tension is to be defused this will only happen through dialogue. This is why next month’s meeting in Athens should be welcomed. Although it was not called to discuss the Cyprus EEZ – it had been scheduled long before the so-called crisis – it could pave the way for a solution to the dispute. Even if the dispute is not brought up, keeping the Cooperation Council going is a good thing because it is the only way for Greece and Turkey to resolve their differences. And Cyprus also stands to gain from the improvement of relations between the two old foes, much more than the regional cooperation agreements that are in vogue at present.