Turkish President Erdogan visits Greece in an effort to mend strained relations
Greece's President Katerina Sakellaropoulou, right, speaks with her Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan during their meeting at the Presidential Palace in Athens, Greece, Thursday, Dec. 7, 2023. Erdogan arrived in Greece on a visit designed to set the historically uneasy neighbors on a more constructive path and help repair strained his country's strained relationship with the European Union. (AP Photo/Michael Varaklas)
The Associated Press
Published Thursday, December 7, 2023 5:51AM EST
ATHENS, Greece (AP) - Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan arrived in Greece on Thursday on a trip designed to mend strained relations between the two nations and with hopes of resetting ties with Western allies.
Despite deep-rooted differences between the two neighboring NATO members, Erdogan promised a “win-win” approach that could lay the foundation for broader cooperation.
The intention to work toward improved relations was evident in Erdogan's first meeting, with President Katerina Sakellaropoulou.
“We will discuss what steps going forward we can take on all issues after preparations have been made by the relevant ministers. We will proceed in a more logical way,” Erdogan told the Greek president in televised comments. “I believe it is best for the future of both sides to discuss looking at the glass half-full.”
Sakellaropoulou, whose role is largely ceremonial, said disasters in both countries this year, when Turkiye was hit by a deadly earthquake and Greece suffered deadly wildfires and floods, brought out sentiments of solidarity between the two nations.
“The tragic events that our countries faced this year were an occasion to prove once again that a sense of solidarity and the demonstration of humanity in difficult circumstances is a common characteristic that unites our two peoples,” Sakellaropoulou said. “This finding is a strong basis for building on the mutual political will to establish a climate that will allow deepening cooperation and avoiding tensions in our bilateral relations.”
She said it is now “perhaps more necessary than ever for Greece and Turkiye to work together to enhance prosperity, to preserve peace, stability and respect for international law, and to promote good neighborly relations for the benefit of both our peoples and the wider region.”
Erdogan was to meet later with Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis. He was accompanied on his one-day trip by several ministers, with joint Cabinet talks with Greek ministers and the signing of several cooperation agreements on the agenda.
The significance of improved relations extends beyond bilateral ties and could help Turkiye mend rocky relationships with the European Union and other Western allies. One crucial agreement in Athens focuses on migration, establishing communication channels between the coast guards of the two countries.
Greece is expected to offer holiday visas for Turks visiting Greek islands and is backing Ankara's request to ease travel restrictions for Turkish nationals in the European Union. Agreements are also expected on the issues of trade and transportation and on addressing disputes through bilateral contacts.
The longstanding disputes between Greece and Turkiye have led the two countries to the brink of war three times in the last 50 years. Centering on maritime boundaries and exploration rights for resources in the Aegean Sea and eastern Mediterranean, the latest flare-up occurred in 2020, when navy ships from the two countries shadowed each other in the eastern Mediterranean.
As relations deteriorated, Erdogan said as recently as last year that he no longer had any interest in meeting with Mitsotakis. But Thursday's visit will be the third time this year that Erdogan and Mitsotakis have met, signaling a significant push to improve ties.
Security was tight in the Greek capital, with major roads and some subway stations shut down as Erdogan's motorcade headed from the airport to central Athens.