Last week, when the government expressed enthusiasm for the resumption of exploratory contacts with Turkey at the end of August, we stressed that the moratorium was illusory and would collapse within a few days. Because after the secret meeting of the diplomatic advisers of the leaders of Greece, Turkey and Germany on July 13, there was no real bilateral agreement, but only a separate consensus of Athens and Ankara on the so-called mediation by Berlin.
Each side of the Aegean perceived the backstage discussions differently, and Turkey had already threatened not to suspend its research activities. Crucial times call for national unity, cross-party government support and postponement of criticism. It is useful, however, to reveal five invisible aspects of diplomatic developments in order to better understand the period we are going through:
First, Angela Merkel’s initiatives have been useful so that Greece does not get involved in a crisis in the short term, but they have no medium- or long-term value. Berlin’s only motive is to prevent a Greek-Turkish conflict during the German EU presidency, so as not to have to discuss imposing sanctions on Turkey. The German Chancellor’s main concern is to ensure that Turkey stays close to Euro-Atlantic structures. Greece accepts this necessity, but it is not possible to suffer this at the expense of its sovereign rights.
Agreement with Ankara?
Secondly, Angela Merkel allegedly demanded that Kyriakos Mitsotakis agree on specific timetables for the development of Greek-Turkish contacts. It is not clear whether the Greek prime minister accepted the chancellor’s request or whether he made it conditional on the course of the investigative contacts. A possible acceptance of suffocating deadlines would be from ill-advised to extremely harmful to Greek interests.
That is why similar ideas were rejected by all Greek prime ministers from 1974 until today. Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s various statements about agreements with Angela Merkel, which may be part of a more general propaganda plan, complicate the issue of agreed or disagreed upon schedules.
Third, foreign diplomats in Athens argue that the government had expressed readiness to reach an agreement with the Turkish side after the exploratory meetings. This readiness raises questions, since the discussions of the investigators are informal, so many rounds of formal consultations should follow (or not?) for registering and co-signing of the points of agreement. Furthermore, on what issues would there be negotiation and agreement since Athens continues to state publicly that the only issue it recognizes is the delimitation of maritime zones, while Ankara wants an agenda on all matters?
Fourth, the government had informed both the US and Germany that its own preference for the development of bilateral contacts with Turkey was to proceed with exploratory contacts, (semi-annual) political consultations at the level of foreign secretaries general and discussions for military confidence-building measures. This is, more or less, the tactic followed by all Greek governments from 2000-01 with the agreement of the then Foreign Ministers George Papandreou and Ismail Cem. So why should there be another specific Athens-Ankara agreement mediated by Germany, which may have changed the order and agenda of contacts?
Fifth, the PM’s office at Maximos Mansion, in contrast to the balanced planning of the Foreign Ministry, depended for almost everything on Germany. Without ignoring the realistic need for cooperation with the Chancellery and its strength in the EU, the question is why Maximos Mansion, at the same time, affected relations with France, complicating the dual issue of the frigate purchase agreement and the strategic cooperation agreement with a clause for reciprocal defense. Also, why did he not seek continuous contacts with the US beyond the channel of contact with Ambassador Jeffrey Payat and the autumn talks with Assistant Secretary of State Philip Reeker.
The coming days, for sure, will determine a lot, putting 2020 in a top spot of the history of Greek-Turkish relations and multiplying the responsibilities of the government.
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