ATHENS, Greece — Greece’s prime minister said Friday his country is seeking improved ties with neighbor and longtime foe Turkey, but that the onus is on Turkey to refrain from what he called “provocations, illegal actions and aggressive rhetoric.”
Kyriakos Mitsotakis’ comments came ahead of a visit to Athens next week by Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu as the two NATO member countries seek to patch up relations strained by a series of disputes, including over energy exploration rights in the eastern Mediterranean.
“The only way for there to be an essential rapprochement with Ankara, which we seek and desire, is for the provocations, the illegal actions and aggressive rhetoric to end,” Mitsotakis said during statements with visiting European Council President Charles Michel.
Only Turkey’s “measured steps are those that will speed up the European steps too,” he said, referring to Turkey’s sometimes strained relations with Europe.
In March, the European Union offered incentives to Turkey to improve cooperation on migration and trade amid concerns about the country’s energy ambitions in the Mediterranean that had led to a sharp increase in tension with EU members Greece and Cyprus that led to warships facing off in the eastern Mediterranean.
Greece and Turkey have been at loggerheads for decades over a long series of issues, including territorial rights in the Aegean, maritime and aviation boundaries and minority rights.
After the escalation of tension last year the two have sought to gradually improve ties, and Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias visited Turkey in mid-April for talks with Cavusoglu.
But the joint news conference after their meeting descended into a rare public exchange of accusations, with the ministers trading barbs and listing their respective country’s grievances against the other.
One of the grievances Cavusoglu cited was about the Muslim minority in Greece, which Greece recognizes as a religious minority but Turkey refers to as an ethnic Turkish minority. The community lives mainly in the northeastern Greek region of Thrace, near the Turkish border, and Cavusoglu was to visit community members there as a private visit Sunday, ahead of his official trip to Athens on Monday.