US urges Greece and Turkey to avoid election tensions

George James Tsunis with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Tuesday urged Greece and Turkey to avoid “charged rhetoric” ahead of elections expected in both countries in the spring.

On a visit to Athens, Blinken called on the historic rivals “to resolve any differences diplomatically and of course, to avoid any threats or provocative rhetoric that will only raise tensions, and that can be more difficult in an election period.”

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis is expected to hold elections in April, but a follow-up ballot is likely to be required a month later for a stable government to be formed.

In Turkey, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had proposed holding elections on May 14.

That may now change following the earthquake earlier this month that killed nearly 45,000 people across Turkey and Syria.

Greece and Turkey have a history of rivalry going back centuries, but relations have been exacerbated by territorial and energy disputes — and more recently by Erdogan’s bombastic threats of invasion.

The quake however has brought a thaw between the NATO allies, who have long experience in such disasters.

Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias was the first European minister to visit Turkey after the earthquake and was warmly greeted by his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu.

Greece sent experienced rescue teams and aid to the disaster zone, and Cavusoglu later acknowledged: “Greece was one of the first countries to call and propose help to Turkey after the earthquake.”

Cavusoglu recalled mutual aid when quakes struck Turkey and Greece in 1999 when he said at the time: “We don’t have to wait for another earthquake for developing our relations”.

“I hope we will make efforts for finding a solution to our disagreements with dialogue in a sincere way,” the Turkish foreign minister said earlier this month.