Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis’ statements after his meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in Ankara

“Honourable President of the Republic of Turkey, dear Tayyip, dear Ministers, Ladies and Gentlemen, I can only begin by thanking you for the warm hospitality you have extended to us today in Ankara.

In a meeting that – it is worth noting – is the fourth in the last ten months, which I believe proves that the two neighbours can now establish this approach of mutual understanding, no longer as an exception, but as a productive normality that is not annulled by the well-known differences in our positions. A normality which, I would say, also shapes a better daily reality.

And I think that is the message we are sending out today. A message that we established a few months ago at the High-Level Cooperation Council meeting that took place in Athens, and with the signing of the Athens Declaration afterwards; it has been built up very systematically, as we had agreed and by the responsibility of the two Foreign Ministers, on three levels: political dialogue, the positive agenda and confidence-building measures.

I believe that this is a positive development at a difficult time for international peace, but also for the wider stability in our region. And it is very important that, as we had initiated, this approach has already led to tangible results, to our mutual benefit.

You mentioned the very great importance that we both attach to the economy and we had indeed agreed that there should be a further deepening of our engagement in the areas of trade and investment.

I also want to welcome today the official establishment of the Greek-Turkish Business Council, which was decided within the framework of the positive agenda, and to express my satisfaction because a very successful business forum was held in Istanbul, with the participation of many prominent Greek and Turkish entrepreneurs.

I think this is one of the many steps that will follow so that we can reach our goal, which is to double our bilateral trade over a five-year period, despite the adversities posed by the international environment, despite the obstacles in international supply chains. We are undoubtedly moving in the right direction.

At the same time, our two peoples, as I pledged in December, are enjoying the fruits of an important initiative: allowing Turkish visitors and their families to travel to ten Greek islands. And thanks to the understanding reached between the Greek Government and the European Commission, the visa issuance process now only takes a few minutes.

I had the opportunity in the last few weeks to visit Lesvos and Chios. I have seen for myself how fast, simple and brief this process is. And I think it is very important, not only in economic terms, it is very important that our two peoples communicate in a direct way and with less bureaucracy involved.

But I would also say that in the crucial field of migration, cooperation between our two countries, especially between the Police and the Coast Guard, is working against illegal flows and against the deplorable traffickers who exploit the suffering of desperate people. This cooperation must continue and intensify; a coordination that we want both at our land and maritime borders.

We know, after all, that both countries have been pressured by migration waves. Turkey is under a lot of pressure as well. That is why Greece has always agreed and continues to agree on the matter of Turkey’s funding by the European Union, just as we concur with a European plan to relieve Turkey through organised relocations.

At the same time, the minorities in our countries that are defined by the Lausanne Treaty comprise – and I deeply believe this – a bridge of friendship between our two peoples.

On the one hand, the Greek minority, although drastically reduced in terms of population size, enriches the social and cultural life of Turkey. But it also needs the support of the Turkish state to continue to do so.

While in Thrace, our Christian and Muslim fellow citizens live in harmony, while the European as well as the Greek legal order guarantees a status of equal opportunities. I reassure you that I am personally committed to this goal.

As I have already stressed, the characterization of the minority as a religious minority is explicitly enshrined in the Lausanne Treaty, while the practical interest of the Greek state in the welfare of the Muslim minority in Thrace is manifested in the self-evident implementation of the principles of equality and equal rights for its members, as for all Greek citizens, but – and I want to emphasize this – also in the adoption of specific provisions that Muslims in our country enjoy. We consider the active presence of the minority in Greek political and social life to be a success of ours, and it would be a welcome development if the, unfortunately, ever-shrinking Hellenism in Turkey flourished in the same way.

And, of course, the spirit of harmonious coexistence also includes respect for international rules regarding the protection of religious and cultural heritage, especially when we are talking about monuments that constitute universal heritage under UNESCO. We had the opportunity to frankly discuss with President Erdoğan our dismay, our dissatisfaction with the change of status of the Chora Monastery, which will now function as a mosque.

I heard what the President said and I believe that, at the very least, it is very important that we be able to preserve the unique cultural value of this monument so that everyone can visit and can enjoy this very important cultural treasure, which I believe serves as a reference point in the history of Istanbul itself.

Ladies and gentlemen, friends, we had the opportunity with President Erdoğan to discuss developments in Ukraine and the Middle East. These events are extremely worrisome, they bring only pain and suffering and must be stopped in only one way: by condemning despotic aggression, but also by condemning brute terrorism. By defending international law, the sovereignty of states, the inviolability of borders, with respect for human life as a constant compass.

We do not always agree with Turkey on issues concerning the Middle East. Athens’ position is that Israel had every right to defend itself against a bloody and provocative terrorist invasion of its territory, an attack on innocent victims who were murdered, kidnapped, tortured by a terrorist organisation that does not represent the Palestinian people.

We do not agree on these matters, but we agree on other things. We agree that the asymmetric use of force and the bloodshed in the region must stop and that a lasting ceasefire must be reached. We agree that the civilians in Gaza must be protected and the hostages released. We agree that the Palestinians must be given access to humanitarian aid. Yes, we agree that at this time it would be a colossal mistake to launch a ground assault on Rafah.

We also agree that the only viable prospect is a return to the political process and a two-state solution, a position that we fully and actively support as members of the international community and as countries of the region.

Ιn the same context, we also discussed, obviously, the Cyprus issue, an issue which remains of paramount importance to us. An issue on which we obviously disagree, but the antidote to any deadlock can only be dialogue. That is why I welcome the appointment of Ms Holguín as the personal envoy of the United Nations Secretary-General and I believe that she should be given time to seek a solution within the framework of the resolutions of the UN Security Council, starting with constructive discussions between the two parties.

And, referring to the European Union, I will reiterate from this podium that Greece has supported and supports, despite the great difficulties, Turkey’s accession path, provided, of course, that the European acquis is respected. And the conclusions of the April European Council give a positive outlook for moving forward in EU-Turkey relations. I would like to hope that these will be interpreted correctly and that they can and should be used correctly on your side as well.

Dear Mr. President, dear Tayyip, today we have also shown that next to our known disagreements we can write a parallel page, with our agreements. Proof that in addition to what we have said on the economy, on migration, on visa facilitation, our Ministers signed memoranda of cooperation in the fields of health and especially in the area of civil protection, where we both recognize that our countries face similar challenges due to the climate crisis.

By taking two more steps that address the daily needs of our peoples in the present, because today must not remain a prisoner of yesterday and must not undermine tomorrow either.

So, with a view to the many things that unite us, we wish to increase our bilateral contacts in the coming period, to continue, under the coordination of the two Foreign Ministers, this positive path that we have trodden over the past year.

And with these thoughts, I would like to thank you again for your excellent hospitality, looking forward to meeting again, possibly at the NATO Summit in Washington, certainly at the United Nations General Assembly in September in New York, and of course, I myself and the members of the Cabinet will reciprocate the visit you payed to Athens, with the next meeting of the High-Level Cooperation Council, which, as we have agreed, will take place in Ankara later this year.

Thank you very much.”

“Let us agree, Mr. President, that we disagree on this issue, but let us agree that we agree on the need at this moment to have an immediate ceasefire and above all, above all, to protect the Palestinian civilians, who are the innocent, the big victims of this war.”