The background of Merkel – Erdoğan meeting

Originally published in on 04/02/2017

On the 2nd of February, German Chancellor Angela Merkel made her first visit to Turkey after the failed coup last July. Immediately after arriving in Ankara, she met with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. In their statements to the press, the two leaders reported that their debate was rooted around the issues of terrorism. They then went to a closed-door meeting, which lasted for an hour, despite being scheduled for two. After the meeting, the German Chancellor visited Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım. The focus of their discussion was the agreement to stop the flow of refugees and the issue of visa-free entry for all Turkish citizens in the EU.

However, Greece was at the top of the talks that took place between the German Chancellor and the Turkish President. The most important point, which was not announced in the media, was the talks between Greek officials and their Iranian counterparts on the issue of the Iranian gas pipeline during the previous month. The second most important point discussed was the issue of the eight soldiers that the Greek Supreme Court refused to hand over to the Turkish government and the third concerned the visa abolition agreement.

As is well known, Turkey and Russia have signed an agreement on the construction of the Russian gas pipeline and are seeking to extend it through Greece. Greek officials have held secret talks with Iranians who have expressed their country’s desire to build an Iranian gas pipeline that will feed the EU countries, crossing the Syrian territory, Cyprus and Greece. These meetings broke through to the Turks, who realized the gravity of the situation and its impact on the success of the Russian gas pipeline. The German Chancellor, at the meeting with the Turkish President, expressed the support of Germany and the European Union in the construction of the Russian pipeline and stressed that the issue of Iran’s natural gas pipeline is a matter of no substance.

In July 2016, a considerable part of the Turkish army organized a coup which would have been successful if the descent of hundreds of thousands of Turkish citizens on the streets had not prevented the occupation of bridges and government buildings. Part of the coup plot was to send a military squad to kill or capture Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. The day after the coup, a statement from the Greek Ministry of National Defense was given to the media indicating the arrival of a Turkish military helicopter in Greece, where eight Turkish officers were requesting political asylum in our country.

The Greek refusal to extradite the eight officers triggered the rage of the Turkish side, which was expressed by the most official lips of the Turkish Foreign Minister, who confirmed that Turkey would react. The German Chancellor assured Erdoğan that she will discuss the issue with the Greek Prime Minister during the Malta session and that her will is that peace prevails between the two countries. Erdoğan threatened to denounce the agreement on the refugee agreement signed by Ankara with the European Union last March if Greece follows the same stance on the issue of Turkish officers.

The next days will be crucial for Greek-Turkish relations. Turkey, which understands the value of co-operation with Russia, is now feeling more confident and undermines the importance of joining the European Union, knowing that this is a distant dream. Therefore, it will use the issue of the eight officers to put more pressure on the European Union and Greece, first of all to reassess the lifting of visas for Turkish citizens and secondly for the Cyprus issue.

Moreover, the comments of the new US president regarding NATO as an obsolete organization were a clear message for Erdoğan to start creating new alliances in the east, and especially with Russia and China. The sanctions announced yesterday by the US against Iran prove it will be at the top of Donald Trump’s list of enemies. It is, therefore, at least naive for the Greek government to continue to rely on economic relations with Iran, especially in this period. In the coming months, the new US governance plan for the Middle East will be formed. Greece must be ready for the escalation of threats from the Turkish side, as long as the situation remains complicated.