Greece’s Prime Minister did the right thing in accepting the invitation from Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, for a meeting on the sidelines of the NATO summit in London. The meeting, according to reports, was held in a frosty atmosphere but it still lasted 90 minutes.
Mitsotakis had come under some criticism for accepting Erdogan’s invitation, especially after the bilateral memorandum of understanding on maritime delimitation signed by Turkey and Libya a week earlier. But what were his options? To engage in the fiery rhetoric, so loved by the media and politicians, labelling the agreement as provocative, unacceptable and in violation of international law? And then what?
He quite rightly opted for the prudent approach. His government expressed its objections to the Libya-Turkey MoU and in a speech at the summit slammed the agreement, which he argued was in violation of international law and in breach of the fundamental principles on which the transatlantic alliance was based. Mitsotakis also urged Turkey to avoid actions and declarations that threatened good neighbourly relations and the security of the region.
An announcement expressing full solidarity with Greece and Cyprus and urging Turkey “to respect the sovereignty and the sovereign rights of all EU member states,” was also issued by the European External Action Service (EEAS) on Wednesday. This might not solve the problem but it strengthened Greece’s case, and by extension, that of Cyprus which is in a slightly different position because of the claims of the Turkish Cypriots on the hydrocarbons.
Having made Greece’s position clear and secured international backing for it, Mitsotakis was correct to meet Erdogan for talks. Establishing some form of dialogue is preferable to raising the ante through the issuing of strong announcements and fiery speeches that lead nowhere. Wednesday’s meeting might not have achieved much, but the dialogue would continue.
While Greece’s Prime Minister, reportedly, repeated his view that the Libya-Turkey agreement was legally void and threatened relations, he still took the approach that dialogue was the only way forward. “The disagreements from both sides were noted; the two sides, however, agreed to continue discussions on the confidence-building measures of the ministry of defence,” Mitsotakis said after the meeting.
There were no threats to stop talking until Turkey scrapped the agreement, but a clear acceptance that if the dispute is to be resolved it would be through dialogue between the two countries. It might not lead anywhere, because confrontation could suit Erdogan at present, but it is still worth pursuing because the rewards of reaching an understanding, however small the probability of achieving this, will be big.