Spotlight: No big outcome expected of upcoming Turkish-Greek summit

Source: Xinhua| 2019-02-02 23:43:36|Editor: yan
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ISTANBUL, Feb. 2 (Xinhua) -- The upcoming meeting between the Turkish and Greek leaders is not expected to yield much as far as settlement of long-standing disputes between the two neighbors is concerned, analysts told Xinhua.

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras will meet with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Ankara on Tuesday.

"The Erdogan-Tsipras meeting is unlikely to deliver tangible outcomes given the fact that the exploratory talks on bilateral issues now underway for years have to date yielded no results," said Faruk Logoglu, a former senior Turkish diplomat.

There is no indication of any specific preparations for the upcoming encounter either, noted Logoglu.

Turkey and Greece have had fairly smooth ties since early 2000s despite a number of long-running disputes over, among others, the ethnically-divided Cyprus, exploration of natural gas around the island of Cyprus, and the ownership of some islands in the Aegean Sea.

Gas exploration off Cyprus may well stoke tension in the region as Ankara says some of the gas fields claimed by the Greek Cypriots overlap with the exclusive economic zone of Turkey and the Turkish Cypriots.

"Cyprus and Eastern Mediterranean questions will be the main focus of the discussions with both sides reiterating their established but conflicting positions," said Logoglu.

Noting the clash of interests between the Turkish and Greek sides in Eastern Mediterranean has recently gathered steam, he warned that "2019 could be a hot and long year in Turkish-Greek relations" unless Erdogan and Tsipras agree on "some new mechanism to address the long-standing issues."

Amid protests by Ankara and the Turkish Cypriot government, the Greek Cypriots struck deals with some leading energy companies for exploration of natural gas off southern Cyprus.

Ankara and northern Cyprus argue that the Turkish Cypriots should also have a share of the revenue of the gas to be drilled off the island, while Nicosia says the Turkish side would get its share after the reunification of the island.

Cyprus was split along ethnic lines in 1974, when Turkey intervened militarily following a military coup by Athens-backed Greek Cypriots.

Greece, Israel, Italy and the Republic of Cyprus, which only represents the Greek Cypriots, recently agreed to construct an undersea pipeline that will carry Cypriot and Israeli natural gas to Europe.

In response, Ankara is expected to send a drilling ship to search for hydrocarbon reserves off the island later this month and a second one in March.

In the view of Cahit Armagan Dilek, director of the Ankara-based 21st Century Turkey Institute, the possibility of an armed conflict looks slim given the fact that negotiations for a federal Cyprus may well be revived between the two sides in the coming months and that the Greek side has the military backing of both the European Union and the United States.

Tension may only flare up if the area where Turkey will send its drilling ships overlaps with the areas announced by the Greek Cypriots, he stated.

Logoglu is more pessimistic.

"If the two leaders persist in leaving this issue unattended as they are likely to do in their Istanbul meeting, it will come back to haunt them in 2019 with unmanageable consequences," he said.

Ankara and Athens are, however, also bound by a joint economic venture in natural gas. They are partners in a Russian natural gas project in which Moscow will pipeline its gas to Europe via Turkey and Greece.

Joint efforts against irregular migration toward Greece via Turkey are another topic that may come up at the talks.

Under a deal inked with the EU in 2016, Turkey agreed to block the flow of migrants, mostly Syrians, toward European countries in return for financial aid for Syrian refugees in Turkey, among others.

It does not look possible to settle the problems between the two nations by exploratory talks, Dilek said, noting the Turkish government has avoided so far bringing up major disputes in talks with Athens.

A negotiation process in which problems remain unresolved works in Greece's favor as the status quo would benefit the Greek side amid Ankara's silence, he cautioned.

Militarization of the Greek islands in the Aegean near the Turkish mainland, which Ankara argues violates the Treaty of Lausanne, has long been an area of contention between the neighbors.

However, Erdogan's government has so far chosen not to make much of the issue, although it is estimated to be part of the exploratory talks.

Athens argues that it has the right to re-militarize some of its Eastern Aegean islands on the grounds that the provisions of the Lausanne Treaty were either abolished by the Montreux Treaty in 1936 or that some of the islands were not designated as demilitarized in the Lausanne Treaty in the first place.

Turkey's silence on such issues gives the impression that the Greek view is accepted by Ankara, cautioned Dilek, a former staff officer in the Turkish navy.

The fact that Turkey will have local elections at the end of March and that a snap general election is possible in Greece also makes it less likely for the Erdogan-Tsipras talks to produce significant results.

"That will deter both sides from giving any appearance of making concessions to the other," remarked Logoglu, who for the same reason expected both leaders to make sure the visit marked by a cordial and friendly atmosphere.

On the second day of his visit, Tsipras will meet in Istanbul with ecumenical Greek Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew, who is recognized as "the first among equals" of eastern Orthodox clerics.

Tsipras will make a show of his meeting with Patriarch Bartholomew, said Logoglu, noting the Ukrainian Orthodox Church recently split from the Russian Orthodox Church with Bartholomew's approval.

The weight of religion is non-negligible in Greece, an overwhelmingly Orthodox Christian nation.

The future of reunification talks between the Turkish and Greek sides in Cyprus may also come up at the talks, although the process is closely linked as well with the upcoming elections.

Eight fugitive Turkish soldiers, who fled to Greece by helicopter in the wake of a coup attempt in Turkey in 2016, remain yet another bone of contention between Turkey and Greece.

Greek courts rejected Ankara's demand for extradition, arguing they would not get a fair trial in Turkey.

Turkey's National Security Council underlined on Wednesday that the refusal by some countries to extradite members of a terrorist organization was unacceptable.