Merkel should intervene in reconciliation efforts between Turkey and Greece - op-ed

Germany Chancellor Angela Merkel must press Turkey and Greece to commit to high-level talks covering their disagreements in the Eastern Mediterranean, Bloomberg columnist Bobby Ghosh wrote in an op-ed published on Friday.

“Given the deep antagonism between the two sides, any negotiations between them will require mediation,” Ghosh wrote.

The foreign affairs pundit cited a recent German newspaper Bild report that Merkel prevented a possible military confrontation between Turkey and Greece on July 21.

The naval and air forces from both countries were on standby after Ankara’s decision to send a research vessel escorted by naval ships to the Greek island of Kastellorizo to conduct oil and gas exploration.

Merkel intervened by holding phone calls with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, and the Turkish fleet turned and headed in another direction, Bild said.

“The Turks and Greeks have chafed at what they regard as German high-handedness in bilateral relations, but when Chancellor Angela Merkel speaks, they tend to listen,” Ghosh said.

Germany is the logical choice to broker a resolution between Turkey and Greece since it is a vital trade partner to both countries, a NATO ally and enjoys considerable credibility from other Eastern Mediterranean countries, such as Cyprus, Israel and Egypt, he said.

The United States and Britain, are alternative candidates with similar qualifications, however “the Trump administration has no aptitude for conflict resolution” and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has little interest in a larger role in the Eastern Mediterranean.

Turkey has played an increasingly active role in the Eastern Mediterranean, sometimes resulting in conflicts of interest and subsequent hostility with other nearby countries.

Turkey is pursuing what it calls its “Blue Homeland” naval expansion doctrine, which lays claim to wide-ranging territorial waters in the Aegean, Mediterranean and Black Sea – resulting in a series of territorial violations with Greece.

The Turkish armed forces have also provided substantial military support to Libya’s internationally recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) in a conflict against opposition forces led by General Khalifa Haftar, a foe backed by Egypt and several other countries.

Ankara and the GNA signed a maritime border agreement in November intended to legitimise Turkey’s claims to abundant offshore gas and oil reserves in the Eastern Mediterranean, much to the ire of Greece, Cyprus and other nations collaborating on a pipeline project of their own off the Cypriot coast.

Ankara, which does not recognise Cyprus as a state, claims half of the country’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) on behalf of the breakaway Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus and has repeatedly carried out warship-escorted offshore drilling in the territory.

Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias on Thursday accused Turkish seismic research vessel “Barbaros” of violating Cyprus’ EEZ and told his Cypriot counterpart that Greece would support Cyprus with any requested response, including sanctions on Turkey, according to the Greek Reporter.

In an interview with Greece-based ANT1, Dendias also stated that the only difference Athens has with Turkey is the extent of the continental shelf in the Aegean and the Eastern Mediterranean, and EEZs.

“We have no other differences with Turkey. This is the context and the object of dialogue,” he said.

Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar said on Friday Turkey expects talks with Greece in the near future, state-run Anadolu news agency reported.

"We expect to have a meeting with our Greek neighbours in Ankara in the coming days," Akar said. “We try to solve problems with this and similar meetings. Our efforts in this direction continue."

In his interview on Thursday, Dendias said Greece has stated that it is always open to such talks but only if Turkey abstained from further territorial violations and provocations.

Athens’ top diplomat also reiterated that if the two sides were unable to agree on a solution, Greece will go to the International Court of Justice in The Hague and settle the dispute there, according to the Greek Reporter.