When Turkey and Greece came to the brink of war in 1996 due to the Kardak/Imia crisis, it was not European powers like Germany, France or the United Kingdom that intervened to avoid a military clash between the two NATO allies.
It was the United States and the President Bill Clinton who urged both parties to reduce the tension in the Aegean by withdrawing their militaries off the disputed area.
Almost 25 years since then, Turkey and Greece are again at odds, this time in the eastern Mediterranean due to the overlapping sovereign claims in a region believed to contain rich hydrocarbon reserves.
Differently from the past crises, all eyes are now on Berlin, not Washington D.C., as a potential power to convince the rival parties to sit around the table for a peaceful resolution to their multiple problems.
It’s surely not coincidental and has two aspects. One is very much relevant with a drastic change in the nature of U.S. diplomacy, particularly under President Donald Trump. Many analysts see Trump-era U.S. diplomacy as disruptive and non-constructive given its reckless unilateral moves in almost every corner in the world, particularly in the Middle East.
For this very reason, the rise of German constructive and effective diplomacy in the European continent and beyond attracts the attention, respect, and applauds from the international community. Plus, at a time where populist or weak leaders are just messing around, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s common sense and wisdom outsmart her colleagues in Europe, as was observed during her last week meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron.
Lastly, Merkel seems to have developed her own way of dealing with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan since the huge migrant crisis in 2015 as Berlin has openly seen that burning bridges or sanctioning Turkey will only generate more problems to Europe. Merkel has earned President Erdoğan’s respect since then although the two countries experienced some very bitter moments in their bilateral ties in early 2017.
There are currently two big mediation efforts by Germany: One between Turkey and Greece and the other one in Libya.
As a result of intense but low-profile diplomacy of German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, a ceasefire was announced in Libya by the two warring parties, the internationally recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli and the House of Representatives in Tobruk. It was again Germany who initiated the Berlin Conference in January for boosting international efforts to a political settlement in the war-torn country, which was later broken by General Khalifa Haftar.
Although the situation is still fragile, many believe a window of opportunity is wide open if both parties would be loyal to the truce and willing to move forward towards a lasting settlement.
The other endeavor is perhaps much more complicated given the complexity of the ongoing Turkish-Greek dispute with concerns that it can lead to an unwanted armed conflict between the two NATO members. That’s why any effort to be exerted to defuse the tension is valuable and very significant for regional and international stability.
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas will reportedly travel to Athens and Ankara on Aug. 25 to hold talks with Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias and Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu. He hopes to produce a joint agreement for another round of Turkish-Greek-German meeting at the advisors’ level in the coming days with an ultimate objective of the resumption of negotiations between Ankara and Athens to narrow their differences on the said issues.
It won’t be an easy job given the growing mistrust between the two neighbors. As can be recalled, Greece did sign a controversial maritime delimitations agreement with Egypt just a day before the much-anticipated announcement for the resumption of Ankara-Athens talks at the expense of escalating tension in the region and frustrating Berlin.
Now it’s time for Turkey and Greece to act responsibly and help Germany to find a common ground for a peaceful solution to the problems. A continued escalation is no option for either side.