Turkey: Germany must be impartial in disputes with Greece
ISTANBUL– Turkey’s foreign minister on Friday urged Germany to be “an honest broker” and not always side with Athens in disputes between Turkey and Greece.
Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu made the comments during a tense press conference with his visiting German counterpart, Annalena Baerbock, where the two exchanged grievances, including on Turkey’s plans for a new military incursion into Syria and its human rights issues.
“Germany has acted as an honest mediator in the past. He had a balanced attitude, but lately we see that balance is unfortunately being lost,” Cavusoglu said, accusing Berlin of falling for “Greek propaganda”.
Baerbock met Cavusoglu in Istanbul after holding talks with officials in Greece, where she criticized Turkey for challenging the sovereignty of Greek islands near its coastline. She also urged Greece to ensure it stamps out any illegal pushbacks of migrants at the border.
NATO neighbors Turkey and Greece have been at odds for decades over maritime borders, related drilling rights and the war-torn island of Cyprus, disputes that have brought them to the brink of war several times.
“Yes, many questions of international law are complicated, but some are also very simple. The Greek islands – Lesvos, Chios, Rhodes and many others – are Greek territory, and no one has the right to raise questions about it,” Baerbock told reporters after speaking in Athens with the Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias.
Turkish officials say the sovereignty of the eastern Greek islands can be challenged if it maintains a military presence there in violation of its treaty commitments. Athens disputes this view and has accused Turkey of carrying out frequent military overflights over its eastern Aegean islands.
Both in Greece and Turkey, Baerbock suggested that NATO members should focus their efforts on supporting Ukraine and pointed the finger at Russian President Vladimir Putin for his country’s aggression.
“For me, it is clear that we must resolve conflicts between NATO partners through dialogue. Disputes within the ranks of the alliance are exactly what the Russian president wants,” she said in Athens. “That includes respecting everyone’s sovereignty.”
Cavusoglu said Turkey wanted Germany to adopt the same “balanced and confident” attitude displayed by former Chancellor Angela Merkel who had mediated between Ankara and Athens in the past.
As the two ministers exchanged grievances, Baerbock spoke out against Turkish plans to launch a new military offensive in northern Syria to push back Syrian Kurdish fighters that Ankara sees as a threat to its security.
“The suffering of the Syrians would once again worsen with a new military confrontation,” she said, adding that the incursion could help the Islamic State group to “gain a foothold” in Syria.
Cavusoglu replied: “When our allies tell us that they understand Turkey’s (security) concerns, we don’t want it to be just in words. We expect them to support Turkey’s legitimate fight (against terrorism).”
The German minister also criticized a Turkish court ruling that sentenced philanthropist Osman Kavala to life in prison, despite rulings by the European Court of Human Rights that called for his release. Cavusoglu said he “would have had more respect” for Baerbock’s opinion if she had also criticized Greece, which he accuses of not respecting ECHR rulings regarding Muslim minorities in Greece.
Baerbock, who visited a refugee camp near Athens on Thursday, said EU countries must do more to ensure the right to seek asylum is respected at the bloc’s external borders. Human rights groups say Greece does not properly treat many migrants and asylum seekers trying to reach the EU, including illegally turning away some who try to cross the border.
“We must defend the values on which the European Union was built,” she said. ” We[…]we need to do more to ensure the safety of people and the absence of human rights violations at the border, and for me that includes unlawful pushbacks. We’re not there yet.”
The German minister was due to meet refugees in the Turkish capital Ankara on Saturday. Turkey hosts 3.7 million Syrians who sought refuge after the war.
——— Fraser reported from Ankara, Turkey. Associated Press writers Derek Gatopoulos in Athens and Geir Moulson in Berlin contributed.
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