Hardly has Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan set foot in Athens and first visit of a Turkish president after 65 years turned into what diplomats would describe as “a disaster.” Right after the official welcome ceremony, Greek President Prokopis Pavlopoulos rejected all Turkish claims one by one and thus in front of the cameras, where the two leaders were supposed to exchange just a few polite statements. Erdogan provoked the not so warm welcome when in an interview a day before his visit he put on the ‘agenda’ table the Lausanne Treaty and the dispute in the Aegean Sea.
Holding hands with his wife Emine, Erdogan climbed down the stair of the presidential aircraft.
Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias welcomed the Turkish President in Athens airport. he was wearing a tie Erdogan had given him as a present.
On live stream, Kotzias was heard saying to Erdogan “diplomacy good!”
At 11 o’ clock, the Turkish president left the airport for downtown Athens in a huge escort of cars and security personnel.
When the motorcade reached the downtown of the city, one after the other several metro stations were closed to the public. the metro trains drove through <Evaggelismos> and <Megaron> without halting, angering hundreds of commuters.
Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras was waiting for the Turkish president at the Monument of the Unknown Soldier in front of the Parliament at Syntagma Square.
Video: Ceremony at the Monument of the Unknown Soldier
Reuters noted, that Turkish flags were not visible in the central Syntagma Square, apart from one seen outside a hotel Erdogan was thought to be staying.
The climate was not the warmest between the two leaders despite the bright sunshine. And it turned worse when Erdogan met with President Prokopis Pavlopoulos.
After the usual protocol of smiles, handshakes and inspection of the presidential guard, the two men sat in front of the cameras and Pavlopoulos …pulled the trigger.
“Revision of the Lausanne Treaty is unacceptable” the Greek President said and the longer he spoke the grimiest Erdogan became listening to the translator.
“The Treaty of Lausanne is non-negotiable and does not need to be revised,” Pavlopoulos said. Any dispute can only be solved peacefully and on the basis of International Law, Pavlopoulos added.
He stressed the need for sincere respect for international law and the European acquis, saying that this was an obligation for both EU member-states and candidate countries.
He also asked for a sincere implementation of the EU-Turkey Agreement on refugees, given that justice and humanity were core values.
“The Treaty of Lausanne defines the territory and the sovereignty of Greece and of the European Union and this treaty is for us non-negotiable,” the Greek President underlined.
Erdogan said that “There are some details in the Treaty of Lausanne that are not clear and properly understood” and that “the Treaty was not being implemented in practice and spoke of ‘discrimination of the Muslim minority’ in Thrace.
“The Orthodox patriarch is elected by members by the church in Istanbul.” Erdogan said and asked “why Muslims in Thrace in Greece cannot elect their own muftis, instead of them being appointed by the Greek authorities.”
He added “You cannot find any discrimination against Turkish citizens of Greek origin while in the Western Thrace, even writing the word ‘Turkish’ is not allowed.”
Noting that the average income of Turks in the Western Thrace is $2,200, Erdoğan said: “Steps for investment and economic development have not been taken, for this reason the Lausanne Treaty should be updated.”
The Lausanne Treaty is “an agreement signed 94 years ago and not just between Greece and Turkey,” Erdogan said.
Touching upon the Cyprus conflict, Erdogan said Turkey wanted to reach a mutual resolution regarding the problems in the island with Greece.
The expected exchange of short and polite statements between the two presidents turned into a half-an-hour debate on crucial bilateral issues and thus in front of the cameras.
Worth noting: during the live coverage of Erdogan-Pavlopoulos meeting, high ranking Turkish officers – here Turkish Chief of Staff, hulusi Akar – were handing notes to help him stand the debate.
In the end, Pavlopoulos’ attack backfired as he gave Erdogan the opportunity to address all Turkish claims, from the Aegean to Lausanne Treaty, to Cyprus and rights for the Muslim minority in Thrace, at highest level, inside the Presidential Manson in Athens.
The embarrassing incident ended with Pavlopoulos telling Erdogan that the Greek government will give answers to all these points and Erdogan responding “I would not have mentioned all these issues if it wasn’t you who did.”
Currently, Erdogan is meeting prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, They both make the usual polite statements in front of the cameras, without the risk of another diplomatic disaster.