Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras (R) speaks with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (L) in their meeting in Athens, Greece, on Dec. 7, 2017. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan arrived here Thursday for a two-day landmark visit amid draconian security measures, as his trip marks the first to the country by a Turkish leader since 1952. (Xinhua/Tariana Bolari)
by Alexia Vlachou
ATHENS, Dec. 7 (Xinhua) -- Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan arrived here Thursday for a two-day landmark visit amid draconian security measures, as his trip marks the first to the country by a Turkish leader since 1952.
Before talks with Greek President Prokopis Pavlopoylos and Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, Erdogan was greeted by an guard of honor at the airport. He then headed to central Athens, laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in front of the Greek Parliament.
Pavlopoylos' welcomed his Turkish counterpart at the presidential mansion saying: "We are here to shake hands and build bridges of friendship, and not division. We are ready to become the gateway of Turkey to the European Union (EU)."
Ahead of his visit to Athens, Erdogan said in an interview on Greece's Skai television that the Treaty of Lausanne, which sets out the modern borders between Greece and Turkey, should be updated, saying that such a move could be beneficial for Greece and Turkey.
Pavlopoylos said, however, that the Treaty of Lausanne was non-negotiable and did not need updating or revision.
"For us, the treaty defines the borders of Greece and the EU and is not negotiable. There are no gaps, no revision or update is needed. It covers the issues it needs to cover, and it leaves no room for gray zones or minority arrangements.
"In Greece, there is a religious Muslim minority and its rights are fully respected," the Greek president said.
For his part, Erdogan said a lot had changed since the Lausanne Treaty was signed in 1923, claiming there were some details in the treaty that were not clear.
"There were other countries in the treaty of Lausanne 94 years ago: England, Portugal and even Japan. Within these 94 years, our planet has been rebuilt. There have been many changes and new points that have emerged for Turkey and Greece," he said.
"We said that the Lausanne Treaty describes the Muslim minority in Greece, but at the same time, at the European Court of Human Rights there is a reference to the word Turkish. We must evaluate the living conditions of the people there. Can we answer the question if the Muslim minority members can exercise their religion based on the Lausanne Treaty provisions? In Turkey, the Orthodox Christian Patriarch is not appointed," Erdogan said in his statements.
On Friday, Erdogan will visit the northeast border province of Thrace, which hosts a large Muslim minority.
Pavlopoulos said that any differences between Greece and Turkey must be resolved based on international law, noting that this was an obligation for both EU member states and candidate countries.
In addition, the Greek president asked for a sincere implementation of the EU-Turkey agreement on refugees, given that justice and humanity were core values.
Afterwards, the Turkish leader met with Prime Minister Tsipras at Maximos Mansion. At the meeting, Tsipras said Erdogan's visit could open a new chapter in bilateral ties.
"Differences have always existed," Tsipras said during their meeting, noting that it was important "we express our disagreements in a constructive way, without provocations".
During their talks, Erdogan and Tsipras are expected to discuss issues that affect bilateral relations, the refugee crisis, security in the wider region and EU-Turkish ties, as well as closer economic cooperation, including joint projects currently underway.
During an interview with the Turkish state news agency Anadolu, Tsipras said the TAP-TANAP natural gas pipeline was progressing rapidly, and other gas projects were being discussed.
Regarding transport networks, Tsipras said there soon would be a shipping connection between Thessaloniki and Izmir, and that the two countries would relaunch the Thessaloniki-Istanbul railway line.
Some 3,000 Greek police officers are participating in the security operation, together with some 200 Turkish security personnel.
A large part of the Greek capital has been in lockdown, and snipers are being deployed on rooftops and public buildings. All protest rallies and marches have been banned in Athens during Erdogan's stay.