U.S. seeks to reduce Greek-Turkish tensions as spat over border persists

A senior U.S. official said his country’s diplomats were working to ease tensions between Turkey and Greece, which have sparred this year over migration flows to Europe and maritime boundaries in the eastern Mediterranean and Aegean seas, according to the Greek Reporter.

Greece boosted its border security in late February when Turkey began to allow thousands of migrants to travel freely toward Europe. Mock dogfights between Greek and Turkish fighter jets have been frequently reported over the Aegean Sea, and Turkey has sent drillships to areas of the eastern Mediterranean claimed by Greece and Cyprus.

But speaking during a webinar for the German Marshall Fund, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Matthew Palmer played down the Turkish overflights in Greek airspace as “not a new issue” and said U.S. diplomats were working to defuse this and other issues.

“We are working with our allies and partners to promote dialogue, to promote the responsible management of areas where disagreements have been reported and to work to deescalate points of friction before they evolve into crises,” Palmer said.

“It is something we have been working on for years, and many of these friction points have been around for a long time,” he said.

Yet Greece is still bracing for a new wave of migrants as Turkey enters a process of normalisation after the rate of new coronavirus infections fell.

Greece ordered around 400 police officers to deploy to the border with Turkey this week after requesting 100 members of the European border force Frontex to boost its security, the Greek Reporter said on Wednesday.

The report came after Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said he expected migration flows to pick up again after a lull during the coronavirus pandemic.

A high-ranking Greek official told the Athens-Macedonian News Agency (ANA) that the police presence at the border with Turkey has remained constant and that the additional units deployed to the Evros region would boost surveillance at the border crossing.

Greece is also planning to construct a 26 km fence running along the border wall to ramp up its security, sparking a response from Turkey’s former Minister for EU Affairs, Egemen Bağış, who told the state-run TRT television channel that this could draw a “reaction” from Turkey.

The Turkish government’s decision to open its side of the border with Greece came in February after Turkey came under pressure in Syria’s Idlib province, where its soldiers are attempting to prevent a Syrian government offensive that could send millions of displaced people fleeing to Turkey.

Turkey is already home to some 4 million refugees and has complained that the European Union expects them to remain in Turkey but has failed to provide adequate support to host such numbers.