A day after announcing new diplomatic talks with rival neighbor Greece, the Turkish president is offering an olive branch to the EU and France.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said he wants to improve relations with the European Union, following a long-standing dispute with Greece and recent quarrels with his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron.
In a televised meeting with EU ambassadors on Tuesday, Erdogan softened some of his harsher rhetoric and adopted a conciliatory tone.
“We are ready to put our relations back on track,” Erdogan told the ambassadors, whom he addressed from his presidential precinct in Ankara. “We expect our European friends to show the same goodwill.”
On Monday, in another sign of easing relations, Turkey and Greece said they were ready to resume exploratory talks over their disputes over the disputed waters of the eastern Mediterranean and other issues.
“We believe that the exploratory talks … will be the harbinger of a new era,” Erdogan said on Tuesday.
Regarding France, a country that Erdogan has severely criticized in recent months for its foreign policy and its fragile relations with the Muslim world, he added: “We want to save our relations with France from tensions”.
Last year Erdogan said Macron needed “mental checks” on his plan to reform Islam in France, while Turkey’s foreign policy in the Eastern Mediterranean, Libya and parts of the Middle East irritated several EU countries.
But as Ankara and Athens appeared poised to resolve their long-standing differences during exploratory talks in Istanbul on January 25, hopes have grown for a smoother 2021.
This month’s meeting will be the first since negotiations between the two concerned NATO neighbors were suspended in 2016 after 60 rounds of unsuccessful talks dating back 14 years.
Plans to resume talks last year failed after a disagreement over the Turkish seismic exploration vessel, Oruc Reis, deployed in the disputed waters. The ship has since returned.
The two countries disagree on the limits of their continental shelves, energy rights, air space and the status of certain islands.
Their dispute threatened to turn into open conflict when Turkish and Greek warships collided in August as they watched Oruc Reis as he searched for oil and gas in waters west of Cyprus. .
Turkey rejects maritime border claims from Greece and the Greek Cypriot administration, saying Ankara supports all issues being resolved through international law. The EU, in turn, has threatened Ankara with sanctions, including on arms exports, on several occasions since August.
Turkey’s willingness to join the EU
Meanwhile, Ankara and EU officials are set to launch a rare series of diplomatic shuttles that could steer their relationship on a more cooperative path.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu will visit Brussels on January 21, while European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen and European Council President Charles Michel are expected in Turkey by the end of the month.
Erdogan noted on Tuesday that Turkey’s drive to join the EU – officially launched in 2005 but effectively suspended – could gain new momentum after the UK leaves the bloc.
“The heightened uncertainty with Brexit could be overcome with Turkey taking its deserved place in the European family,” Erdogan said.
“We have never given up full membership (goal) despite double standards and injustice.”
Turkey’s membership talks have been sidelined by European concerns over Erdogan’s human rights record.
“It is up to us to make 2021 a success in Turkey-EU relations,” he said on Tuesday.