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Greek PM eyes chance to normalize relations with Turkey, but demands rhetorical de-escalation

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Greece’s prime minister said Monday that his government wants to take full advantage of an improving political climate with neighboring Turkey in order to improve bilateral relations despite a string of decades-old disputes.

But Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said that didn’t mean Turkey had “substantially changed” its stance on key differences between the two countries and must “decisively abandon its aggressive and unlawful conduct” against Greece’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

Turkey and Greece remain at odds over maritime boundaries in the eastern Mediterranean, a dispute that affects irregular migration into the European Union, mineral rights and the projection of military power.

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Mitsotakis said that he agreed with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan during a NATO summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, on July 11-12 to initiate new “lines of communication” and to maintain “a period of calm.”

High-level talks between the two countries are expected to take place in the Greek city of Thessaloniki later this year.

Kyriakos Mitsotakis

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis appears at a press conference with Cypriot President Nikos Christodoulides, not pictured, Nicosia, Cyprus, Monday, July 31, 2023. (Yiannis Kourtoglou Pool via AP)

However, the Greek prime minister said that Erdogan’s outreach to the EU couldn’t come at the expense of efforts to heal nearly half a century of ethnic division in Cyprus, which has been split into separate Greek and Turkish entities since 1974.

Speaking after talks with Cypriot President Nikos Christodoulides, Mitsotakis said that he told Erdogan that improved European-Turkish ties couldn’t exclude a Cyprus peace accord and that the issue couldn’t be “left by the wayside.”

Turkey and the breakaway Turkish Cypriots have insisted on a two-state solution since July 2017 when the most recent round of U.N.-facilitated peace talks collapsed.

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That position overturned a long-standing agreement sanctioned by the U.N. Security Council in numerous resolutions that any peace deal would aim for a reunified Cyprus as a federation made up of Greek- and Turkish-speaking zones.

Cyprus was divided in 1974 when Turkey invaded following a coup by supporters of union with Greece. Only Turkey recognizes a Turkish Cypriot declaration of independence in the island’s northern third, where more than 35,000 Turkish troops are stationed.

On Friday, Turkish Cypriot leader Ersin Tatar repeated that peace talks could resume only if Greek Cypriots recognized the Turkish Cypriots’ “sovereign equality.”

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Christodoulides said Monday that any improvement in European-Turkish relations should be based on reciprocal action by Turkey, adding that the EU prioritizes a Cyprus peace deal in line with U.N. resolutions.

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