ISTANBUL (AP) — Turkey’s foreign minister urged Germany on Friday to be “an honest broker” and not always side with Athens in disputes between Turkey and Greece.
Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu made the comments during a tense news conference with his visiting German counterpart, Annalena Baerbock, where the two volleyed grievances back and forth, including over Turkey’s plans for a new military incursion into Syria and its human rights issues.
“Germany has acted as an honest mediator in the past. It had a balanced attitude, but lately, we see that this balance is unfortunately being lost,” Cavusoglu said, accusing Berlin of falling for “Greek propaganda.”
Baerbock met with Cavusoglu in Istanbul after holding talks with officials in Greece, where she criticized Turkey for disputing the sovereignty of Greek islands near its coastline. She also urged Greece to make sure it stamps out any illegal pushbacks of migrants at the border.
NATO neighbors Turkey and Greece have been at odds for decades over sea boundaries, related drilling rights and the war-divided island of Cyprus, disputes that have brought them to the brink of war on several occasions.
“Yes, many questions of international law are complicated, but some are also very simple. Greek islands ‒ Lesbos, Chios, Rhodes and many, many others ‒ are Greek territory, and no one has the right to raise questions over that,” Baerbock told reporters after holding talks in Athens with Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias.
Turkish officials says the sovereignty of eastern Greek islands can be disputed if it keeps a military presence there in violation of its treaty commitments. Athens disputes that view and has accused Turkey of carrying out frequent military overflights at its islands in the eastern Aegean Sea.
In both Greece and Turkey, Baerbock suggested that the NATO members should concentrate their efforts on supporting Ukraine, and singled out Russian President Vladimir Putin for his country’s aggression.
“For me, it is clear that we must solve conflicts between NATO partners in dialogue. Disputes in the ranks of the alliance are exactly what the Russian president wants,” she said in Athens. “That includes respecting each other’s sovereignty.″
Cavusoglu said Turkey wanted Germany to adopt the same “balanced and trusted” attitude displayed by former Chancellor Angela Merkel who had mediated between Ankara and Athens in the past.
As the two ministers exchanged grievances, Baerbock spoke out against Turkish plans to launch a new military offensive in northern Syria to push back Syrian Kurdish fighters that Ankara considers to be a threat to its security.
“The suffering of Syrians would once again worsen with a renewed military confrontation," she said, adding that the incursion could help the Islamic State group “gain a foothold” in Syria.
Cavusoglu responded: “When our allies tell us they understand Turkey’s (security) concerns, we don’t want it to be through words only. We expect them to support Turkey’s legitimate fight (against terrorism)."
The German minister was also critical of a Turkish court ruling that convicted philanthropist Osman Kavala to life in prison, despite rulings by European Court of Human Rights that had called for his release. Cavusoglu said he "would have had more respect” for Baerbock’s opinion if she had also criticized Greece, whom he accused of failing to respect ECHR rulings regarding Muslim minorities in Greece.
Baerbock, who visited a refugee camp near Athens on Thursday, said EU countries needed to do more ensure that the right to apply for asylum was upheld at the bloc’s external borders. Human rights groups say Greece is not properly processing many migrants and asylum-seekers trying to reach the EU, including illegally pushing back some trying to cross the border.
“We must uphold the values on which the European Union was built,″ she said. ”We ... must do more to ensure that people are safe and that there are no human rights violations at the border, and for me this includes illegal pushbacks. We are not there yet.”
The German minister was scheduled to meet with refugees in the Turkish capital Ankara, on Saturday. Turkey hosts 3.7 million Syrians who have sought refuge from the war.