It's a rare visit that shows the importance of the moment. Six years after his last trip to Greece, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan arrived in Athens on Thursday 7 December to "open a new chapter" in the stormy relations between these two historic rivals and partners within NATO.
During this visit, which lasted a few hours, the Turkish Head of State met with the President of the Republic, Katerina Sakellaropoulou. He is then due to meet Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis. The two leaders, who both successfully faced the ballot box this year, will address the press at midday on Thursday.
Alexia Kefalas, correspondent of France 24
Before his visit, Recep Tayyip Erdogan wanted to reach out to the Greek Prime Minister. "My friend Kyriakos, we will not threaten you if you do not threaten us," he said in a lengthy interview with one of Greece's leading newspapers, I Kathimerini, on the eve of his visit.
"If differences are addressed through dialogue and common ground is found, it is for the benefit of all," he insisted.
The Turkish president's trip to Greece is intended to ratify the détente that began this summer after the two leaders met on the sidelines of the NATO summit in Vilnius, Lithuania. On that occasion, Greece and Turkey agreed on a new "roadmap" for their bilateral relationship.
On the brink of confrontation in 2020
The diplomatic warming comes after years of disagreements between the two neighbours, whose rivalry has its roots in the period of domination by the Ottoman Empire – of which Turkey is the heir – until Greece's independence in 1832.
At the heart of the Greek-Turkish dispute is the delimitation of borders in the Aegean Sea and maritime exploitation zones. Long-standing territorial disputes that reached a peak of tension in 2020 with Ankara's dispatch of a hydrocarbon exploration boat accompanied by warships in Greek waters.
Read alsoGreece-Turkey: what you need to know about the escalation of tensions in the Mediterranean
Just last year, Recep Tayyip Erdogan made thinly veiled threats of military intervention, accusing Greece of "occupying" the Aegean islands: "We could suddenly arrive one night," the Turkish president said.
But Athens' unwavering solidarity after the earthquake that struck southern Turkey in February and killed at least 50,000 people changed that. Since then, the tone has softened, making dialogue at the highest level of the state possible again.
In the aftermath, tensions have dropped several notches in the space of a few months: the flow of refugees from Turkey has been reduced, the violations of Greek airspace by Turkish fighter jets, which were commonplace, have all but disappeared. As for the conflict in the Eastern Mediterranean, the hatchet seems to have been buried.
Kyriakos Mitsotakis said at the end of September that he was ready to "find a solution on the basis of international law" while recalling "the major territorial disputes" that exist between the two countries.
"It is important that disagreements do not lead to crises," government spokesman Pavlos Marinakis also insisted on the public broadcaster ERT, and that "every opportunity for dialogue, such as the very important one on December 7, leads us to move forward."
For Antonia Zervaki, professor of international relations at the University of Athens, "dialogue is the only tool to find a way to develop a roadmap for the delimitation of waters in the Aegean Sea."
However, vexing issues – such as the status of the island of Cyprus – will be set aside during the five-hour express trip. The first stage of the Greek-Turkish rapprochement should make it possible to move forward on a consensual agenda with a series of bilateral agreements on tourism, the economy, health, education, agriculture and migration.
President Erdogan's visit marks a desire to stabilise relations with his neighbours in a troubled geopolitical context. By moving closer to Greece, Erdogan is also giving assurances to the Europeans, who reproach him for his fiercely anti-Israel positions and his support for Azerbaijan against Armenia.
On the eve of the visit to Greece, Spanish MEP Nacho Sanchez Amor, rapporteur on Turkey in the European Parliament, warned Ankara. "Avoiding the use of an aggressive and threatening tone is easy, immediate and gratuitous. (...) You are completely isolated. Your only real friend is Azerbaijan," the EU official told a news conference in Istanbul.
In its latest report on the state of negotiations with EU candidate countries, published in November, the European Commission noted that "Turkey's unilateral foreign policy remains at odds with the EU's priorities".
"We are waiting for a new tone and signs of re-engagement from Turkey," said Nacho Sanchez Amor, as the EU seeks to discuss with Ankara how best to prevent Russia from circumventing Western sanctions.
Beyond the necessary rebalancing of Turkish diplomacy, the economic issue also plays a role in this rapprochement, especially for Turkey, which is mired in a deep crisis. Ankara desperately needs Western investment to prop up its economy. According to Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the time has come to open a "new chapter" with Greece. It promises a "win-win" partnership.
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