ATHENS, Greece – Greece is launching the red carpet for a visit this week by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, hoping to improve the often cold ties between the two neighbors and NATO allies at a time when Turkey's relations are being tested both the European Union and the United States.
Security in Athens will be difficult for Erdogan's arrival on Thursday, when he will meet Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and the largely ceremonial president of the country, Prokopis Pavlopoulos, before heading to northeastern Greece. the next day to talk with members of the Muslim minority in the country. The Greek authorities announced Wednesday the banning of demonstrations in the center of Athens during Erdogan's stay.
"It is a visit of exceptional importance and importance," said Greek government spokesman Dimitris Tzanakopoulos, adding that the government expected "exceptionally constructive talks". It will be Erdogan's first visit to Greece as Turkish president, although he has visited twice before as prime minister.
The talks will focus on the refugee crisis, as the Greek islands have been the gateway to Europe for migrants crossing from the Turkish coast, as well as regional relations, energy and trade ties. the European Union. Long-standing disputes with Greece, such as territorial claims in the Aegean Sea will also be on the agenda.
So will the flight to Greece of eight members of the Turkish army just after the aborted military coup last year in Turkey. The Supreme Court of Greece rejected an extradition request from Turkey and said that men who requested asylum in Greece could not guarantee a fair trial in Turkey. That caused considerable anger in Ankara.
In an interview aired on Wednesday, Erdogan told the Greek private television channel Skai TV that his country's judicial system is "the best in Europe" and claimed that Tsipras promised to return them in "15 to 20 days". during a telephone conversation just after the military arrived in Greece in a military helicopter.
"This is what he said, but unfortunately at this moment they are still in Greece," Erdogan said, adding that the military should have been handed over before the Greek courts became involved.
"If you leave it to the judiciary, there will be no result," he said. "To facilitate the work of the judiciary, you must first, as a government, take the necessary measures before assigning it to the judiciary."
Erdogan's visit comes as his country finds itself increasingly isolated on the international stage, and he could use his appearances in Athens to improve relations, some analysts say.
"It is an attempt on behalf of the Turkish president to reduce tensions with the European Union, since the Turkish economy depends a lot on European capital and because he foresees that relations with the United States could lead … a negative outlook additional". said Constantinos Filis, director of research at the Institute of International Relations. "I think Erdogan … has come to the conclusion that he can not (maintain) both fronts at the same time with the West."
Turkey's ties with several European countries, Germany in particular, and the EU as a whole deteriorated significantly after the Erdogan crackdown in response to the failed coup of July 2016. Tens of thousands of Turks have been fired from his works, and tens of thousands more were imprisoned for accusations of being linked, albeit tenuously, with Erdogan's guilty man for the attempted coup: Fethullah Gulen, an Islamic cleric living in the United States. UU directs a network of schools, hospitals and companies.
Since the failed coup, Greece is the second EU country, after Poland, which invited Erdogan to visit.
Recently, tension has also increased between Ankara and Washington, particularly over the New York trial of a Turkish banker for alleged transactions with Iran. Erdogan lashed out at the trial of Mehmet Hakan Atilla on Tuesday, describing it as a US conspiracy to blackmail and sully his country.
"I think he will take the opportunity and try to show a more moderate face, at least in Turkey's relations with the EU," said Phillis. "If he decides to attack the EU and the United States from a European capital, that is, Athens, then this will create a very serious problem for the Greek government, because the Greek government will have to respond."
But many sources of tension remain between Greece and Turkey, neighbors with historically fragile relations that have reached the brink of war three times since the 1970s. Decades of thorny issues include territorial disputes in the Aegean, the Muslim minority in the northeast of Greece and the continuous occupation of the Turkish troops of the north of Cyprus.
Some of these themes "will probably be hidden under the carpet," Phillis said. "I do not think that Erdogan in the few hours he will spend in Athens has the luxury, and that Greece does not have the luxury, to talk with Erdogan about the historical difficulties and the differences in the Aegean, for example."
In Ankara, Erdogan's spokesman, Ibrahim Kalin, told reporters on Wednesday that Turkey expected the visit to "develop and deepen" the relations between the two neighbors, noting that both countries "have assumed great responsibilities to resolve the problem "of migration.
The EU failed to meet its obligations in March 2016 and said it had yet to disburse funds for Syrian refugees in Turkey, allow Turkish citizens to travel without a visa or open new "chapters" of negotiation to advance the membership of Turkey to the EU offer.
Kalin said, however, that Ankara is satisfied with Greece's support for Turkey's membership offer.
Suzan Fraser in Ankara, Turkey, contributed to this report.
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