US looks on as Greece and Turkey seek to break impasse

The Erdogan-Mitsotakis meeting at the upcoming NATO summit is critical for both countries. Support from the US and EU will only increase security in the Eastern Mediterranean.

Since Greece gained its independence in 1821, Turkish-Greek relations have been dominated by crises and wars, except for periods of short-lived reconciliation. The events of 2020 have been no exception, though recent talks between the Aegean neighbours may usher in a new period in their relationship.

In the past year, there were disputes over the delimitation of exclusive economic zones and territorial waters, Greece's armament of the Aegean Islands and use of the continental shelf. Furthermore, NavTex exchanges, military exercises, intense diplomacy and the exchange of explicit threats led to the fear of an imminent war.

Athens responded to Ankara's statement confirming that "Turkey will defend its rights under international maritime law, no matter what," by saying Turkey was violating Greece's continental shelf and threatening Greece's "sovereign" rights by pursuing "piratical" steps.

Greece declared that it would not accept any other solution than for Turkey to stop its research activities and pull its battleships from the region.

But this harsh rhetoric appears to be changing, which can be seen from two recent developments. First, the governments of both countries have been striving to demonstrate that they favour diplomatic solutions. Exploratory talks have begun on these grounds. The tensions that marked the April 15 meeting in Ankara between Turkey’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Mevlut Cavusoglu and his counterpart Nikos Dendias were absent in the second meeting held in Athens on May 31.

So, we have witnessed a highly positive and warm atmosphere. Cavusoglu said, "We have started to work with the Greek side on substantial projects on an action and cooperation basis. In addition to reaching an agreement on 25 clauses, Turkey and Greece agreed upon the vaccination certificate," and Dendias gave quite a warm statement that the two countries were working towards overcoming the significant differences between them.

The other important development is the upcoming meeting between President Erdogan and Prime Minister Mitsotakis at the NATO summit on June 14, which will be one of the most important meetings between the leadership of the two countries in recent history.

The Role of the US and EU

Meanwhile, as Turkey works to reset its relationship with the US and EU, their positions on Turkey-Greece relations also warrant examination.

It is well known that President Joe Biden gives full support and shows great interest in Greece. This was manifested during his time in the White House and his tenure in the Senate.

Let's remember that Biden thanked the Greek-American community in 2008 for their promise to side with him at all times. Having called himself an "honourary Greek," on multiple occasions, Biden gives the impression that there is a positive background and sincerity towards Athens and Nicosia.

The Biden administration is also against a two-state solution in Cyprus, which Turkey favours.

The US also has concerns about Turkey dispatching research vessels in the Eastern Mediterranean.

Meanwhile, Turkey is concerned about the US increasing its military presence in Greece.

Even though the United States talks about a NATO expansion, its defence cooperation with Greece as well as the expansion of bases in the Aegean beg the question: Does the US view Greece as an alternative to Turkey?

Nevertheless, the Biden administration is pleased to see the easing of tension in Turkish-Greek relations, and its representatives express this often. Their statements demonstrate that the US wants Turkey and Greece to work closely within NATO.

Even though the European Union is not impartial in Turkish-Greek relations, it is also making statements to ease the tension. Turkey’s trust in the EU is thrown into question as it uses Greece’s relations with Turkey and threatens it with sanctions, but Biden's coordination with the EU on foreign policy hints at the direction of Turkish-Greek relations.

I recently spoke with George N. Tzogopoulos, one of the top experts on Greek-Turkey relations, on the recent developments, who expressed that while he didn’t expect any major breakthroughs, the two countries demonstrate “a kinetic energy in pushing negotiations forward”.

“Greece envisages new synergies as long as Turkey is in the process of recalibrating its relations with both the USA and the EU,” he said.

Both Turkey and Greece are aware that the solution lies in diplomacy and dialogue, not military action. They are aware of the damage and new problems that the latter will bring, so even when they give harsh statements, they still express their attempts to ease the tension.

A permanent solution is only possible with the fellowship and solidarity of the nations on both sides of the Aegean Sea to serve their mutual interests.