The foreign ministers of Greece and Turkey have exchanged accusations on a wide range of issues during a volatile press conference at the end of their first meeting in over a year.
The meeting between Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and his Greek counterpart Nikos Dendias was ostensibly designed to show the two uneasy NATO neighbours trying to put aside their differences after a year of complex disputes.
The two countries teetered on the edge of all-out war when their gunboats collided while shadowing each other during a Turkish push into disputed eastern Mediterranean waters last August.
The press conference opened with conciliatory remarks from Cavusoglu in which he praised “the very positive dialogue” they just held in the Turkish capital.
Cavusoglu said he believes the disputes with Greece can be resolved through constructive dialogue, and that faits accomplis and provocative rhetoric should be avoided in relations between the two countries.
“It is in our interests that minorities in both countries live in peace, it will have a positive impact on our relations,” he said.
But Dendias used his opening remarks to rattle off a series of longstanding complaints about Turkey – from its search for natural gas in contested waters to its treatment of the Greek Orthodox minority and the sides’ ongoing dispute about migrants.
“Greece’s position is clear and this is not the first time you have heard it,” Dendias told Cavusoglu during a particularly heated moment in the 35-minute press conference.
“If you heavily accuse my country and people before the press, I have to be in a position to respond to that,” Cavusoglu replied.
“If you want to continue our tensions, we can,” he added.
Dendias also expressed support for Turkey’s bid to join the European Union but said any violations of Greece’s sovereignty would be sanctioned.
His comments prompted an angry response from Cavusoglu who described them as “unacceptable”, prompting Dendias to say he was surprised Cavusoglu had expected him to act as if nothing had happened in the Aegean and eastern Mediterranean.
Tensions between neighbours
Dendias’s visit to Ankara is the first from a high-profile Greek minister in more than two years.
The continued threat of armed conflict between the two NATO allies has alarmed the European Union.
Tensions had flared last year as Turkish research ships explored for oil and gas reserves in waters claimed by Greece and its close ally Cyprus.
Other issues include competing claims over their respective continental shelves, maritime rights, air space in the Mediterranean, energy, the Cyprus issue and the status of some islands in the Aegean Sea.
Turkey has also accused the Greek coastguard of putting lives at risk by forcing migrants trying to reach the Greek islands back into Turkish waters. Meanwhile, Greece has claimed Turkey is facilitating such crossings in breach of a 2016 refugee deal between Ankara and the EU.