Greece’s foreign minister said his country could work together with Turkey to exploit natural resources while urging Ankara to settle its dispute with the European Union over offshore drilling in the Mediterranean.
Nikolaos Dendias said in an interview in Washington that there are a wide range of issues where Greece could cooperate with Turkey. Those opportunities are currently held up by a disagreement over Turkey’s drilling operations in the waters off of Cyprus.
“We have to help our societies create growth, create prosperity, create stability in the region and also really at the end of the day become friends again,’’ Dendias said. “There are thousands of synergies from tourism to exploitation of natural resources. You name it, it’s there.”
Turkey’s already strained relationship with the EU has frayed further since President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government vowed to go ahead with energy exploration in the eastern Mediterranean in a growing dispute with EU member Cyprus. EU foreign ministers — including Dendias — agreed on Monday to freeze most high-level contacts with Turkey and to cut the flow of funds to the country, while holding back for now on sanctions that could target Turkish companies involved in offshore drilling in the region.
“For us, it is not a question of the amount of penalties,” the 59-year-old lawyer and former defense minister said in the interview at his nation’s embassy on Wednesday. “It is to make Turkey understand that that is not the way forward either for us or for them or for Cyprus or for the stability in the region.”
Dendias met with Secretary of State Michael Pompeo and National Security Adviser John Bolton during his trip to Washington. His visit came shortly after Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis named him to the government following this month’s national elections.
Seeing “eye-to-eye” with the Trump administration “is very, very important for us,” Dendias said.
He also said the new Greek government is going to “honor any agreement” that was signed by previous administrations, including the so-called Prespes accord which could be made “even better with common understanding” between the two countries.
Under that agreement, Greece’s neighbor changed its name to Republic of North Macedonia in exchange for the Greece ending opposition to its bid to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the European Union.
The Greek government must ensure it can attract the investment it desperately needs and create jobs as the country digs itself out of a financial crisis that has lasted more than a decade and took a toll on living standards. Although Mitsotakis inherited an economy on the mend and a stock market that’s soaring, they are rebounding from shrunken bases.
“The country suffers from under-investment,” Dendias said. “We need more than a 100 billion of investments” to help boost current growth, which is “not sufficient at all,” he said.
Dendias also expressed concern that Turkey may “not abide by the rules” of its agreement with the EU by letting economic migrants “pass through Turkey” from the Middle East and other regions. He also criticized some European nations for not doing enough to participate in “all the problems of relocation and resettlement” of refugees.
“You cannot really be seen as a place where all the economic migrants of Africa, all the economic migrants of Asia, could come to,” he said. “We are very small, very vulnerable and just getting out of a crisis. Again, let’s be honest, very few of our European friends are helping.”