Athens, Greece – Greek-Turkish Exploratory contacts between Greece and Turkey resume on January 25, 2021 at Istanbul’s Swissotel, with Greece having particularly low expectations of a substantial outcome due to the different agendas set by both sides.

Greece insists that the demarcation of maritime zones is the only issue up for discussion, while Turkey wants a whole range of issues on the table, from the demilitarization of Greek islands and “gray zones” in the Aegean to the rights of Greece’s Muslim minority in Thrace. Turkey openly questions the legitimacy of the Lausanne Treaty.

In light of these differences, the meeting of delegations is seen as a litmus test for the overall course of the exploratory contacts and a foretaste of the climate that will prevail in the coming months.

For the Greek side the outcome of these contacts will be contingent on the approach Turkey will take. More specifically, if Turkey signals a willingness to engage in a constructive discussion on maritime zones, as it did to some extent in 2003 and 2011, Greece will respond. In the event that Turkey keeps its cards to its chest, Greece will be open to a new round of contacts in Athens in February 2021.

However, if Turkey insists on its “expanded” agenda, challenging Greek sovereign rights and national red lines, then the talks will be on thin ice. Nonetheless, sources contend that the most likely scenario is that Turkey will opt to continue the exploratory contacts over the next six months, but without any prospect of concrete results.

Whatever scenario unfolds, according to government sources, Greece has no reason to break off the contacts as a blame game will almost definitely ensue, with both sides seeking not to be held accountable by the international community. What’s more, given the current health and economic crises, Greece would not want to add a major escalation with Turkey on its already full plate.

Greece’s assessment is that Turkey will stay the course of the exploratory contacts as it could benefit from a period of calm in Greek-Turkish relations. Turkey will most likely have to confront anytime is the growing challenge Greece poses to international law, security and stability in the Eastern Mediterranean.

With the dialogue under way, Turkey will also avoid the possibility of sanctions at the March 2021 summit of European Union leaders. Moreover, it will have a clearer picture of US-Turkish relations, which are not expected to be so friendly to Turkey. US and Turkey on course for diplomatic, economic collision with unjust the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) sanctions.

Former Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras has made scandalous statements about Turkey. Referring to the resumption of exploratory talks between Turkey and Greece, Samaras said the talks had stopped the European Union’s sanctions on Turkey, saying “I said there would be no dialogue with the Pirates.”

Former Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras made statements about the 61st round of exploratory talks in Istanbul on January 25, 2021.

Prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis opposes the “calming doctrine” policy pursued by the Greek government in Turkish-Greek relations, Samaras said. “with the start of exploratory talks, EU sanctions against Turkey were blocked. Expansionism can only be met with deterrence,” he said.

“No dialogue with Pirates”

Asked what Greece should respond if Turkey insists on bringing to the table issues other than the definition of maritime zones, such as the disarmament of the Aegean islands, Samaras said:

“And we will insist, we refuse to talk about how to share our sovereign rights, because if we agree to enter into such a debate, it is not a question of ‘give them something to save the rest’, supported by some. Because if (Turkey) gets something now, then it will come back with threats to get other things. For this, I said no dialogue with Pirates.”

Samaras also mentioned the possibility of applying to the International Court of Justice in The Hague if no results are obtained in the future contacts:

“No, don’t do this wrong. What they want from us is not to apply to The Hague on the basis of international law. Because Turkey does not accept or even sign the United Nations (UN) Convention on the law of the Sea (UNCLOS). So there is no common framework to refer to. Another way is to be dragged to The Hague by signing an arbitration agreement with Turkey. In other words, it means agreeing to resolve our disputes not as stipulated by international law, but as Turkey desires.”

Former Greek prime minister Antonis Samaras says deterrence only way to deal with Turkey.

Exploratory talks between Greece and Turkey remove the prospect of EU sanctions against Turkey over its illegal activities in the East Mediterranean, former prime minister Antonis Samaras said, also cautioning against recourse to the International Court of Justice.

“Anyone can understand that the international community will not ‘punish’ a country that is formally engaged in a negotiation,” Samaras said.

He questioned the wisdom of taking maritime disputes to The Hague, arguing it would be tantamount “to relinquishing the positive provisions of international law” and said that faced with persisting challenges to its sovereign rights, Greece would be better off building “strong alliances” in the region.

“You cannot appease an expansionist [state]. This will only make it more relentless. An expansionist [state] can only be dealt with by deterrence,” he said.

Exploratory talks

Turkey and Greece began exploratory talks in Ankara on March 12, 2002, in order to lay the groundwork for a “just, permanent and comprehensive” solution to the Aegean problems that both sides could accept.

The 60th round, the last of the talks between the undersecretaries of the foreign ministers of the two countries, was held in Athens on 1 March 2016. The talks, which were suspended by the Greek government at the time, continued in the form of political consultations after that date, but did not return to the framework. The 61st round of exploratory talks between Turkey and Greece will be held in Istanbul on January 25, 2021.