Erdoğan meets with leaders, discusses regional challenges in Prague summit

Amid increasing diplomatic engagement in regional challenges including the Russian invasion on Ukraine, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan participated in a busy program in Prague while conducting bilateral talks

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Thursday participated in the inaugural summit of the “European Political Community (EPC),” discussed regional challenges including Russian aggression, and met with world leaders.

Erdoğan was to take part in the opening session of the meeting, a family photo that was taken afterward and in roundtable talks which were to be followed by bilateral meetings with other leaders on the sidelines of the meeting. Erdoğan was also expected to hold a press conference later in the evening following the closing session organized in the format of a dinner.

The president was set to convey Türkiye’s views, contributions, and assessments on the challenges Europe is currently facing to its peace and security, energy, climate, and economic situation.

Within this scope, Erdoğan met Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian as the two countries are set to normalize relations.

The gathering in Prague – a brainchild of French President Emmanuel Macron – has been billed by Brussels as a “platform for political coordination” for the disparate 44 nations attending.

But there are deep disagreements – and even open conflict – among some of the participants and skepticism that the one-day event will turn out to be no more than a photo opportunity.

Those set to meet in the historic Prague Castle also include the leaders of Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Georgia, Iceland, Kosovo, Liechtenstein, Moldova, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Norway, Serbia and Switzerland.

Meanwhile, the president also met Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, and held a trilateral meeting with Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala, EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen and Bulgarian counterpart Rumen Radev.

Russia, which is not invited, will loom over the meeting as discussions focus on the economic and security fallout from its war against its pro-Western neighbor.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, currently overseeing a counteroffensive against Moscow’s forces, will connect via video link from Kyiv. His prime minister will stand in for him at the talks.

Most recently, Türkiye enabled a prisoner swap between the warring countries.

One of the most important outcomes of Turkish mediation was when Türkiye, the United Nations, Russia and Ukraine signed a deal in Istanbul to reopen certain Ukrainian ports to release grain that had been stuck for months because of the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war – a development that has been crucial in responding to a growing global food crisis.

Türkiye is one of the most active countries working to ensure a permanent cease-fire between Ukraine and Russia. Its delicately balanced act of assuming a role as a mediator by keeping communication channels with both warring sides open provides a glimmer of hope in diplomatic efforts to find a solution and achieve peace in the Ukraine crisis.

With its unique position of having friendly relations with both Russia and Ukraine, Türkiye has won widespread praise for its push to end the war.

Since the beginning of the conflict, Ankara has offered to mediate between the two sides and host peace talks, underlining its support for Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty. While Ankara has opposed international sanctions designed to isolate Moscow, it also closed its straits to prevent some Russian vessels from crossing through them.

In a breakthrough, Russian and Ukrainian delegations met for peace talks in Istanbul on March 29 as the war entered its second month, with casualties piling up on both sides.

Türkiye also hosted the foreign ministers of Russia and Ukraine in Antalya in March.

Even more fraught could be the attendance of the leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan, whose troops continue bloody clashes along their volatile frontier.

Armenia’s prime minister has said he will meet Azerbaijan’s president together with Macron and European Union chief Charles Michel in Prague.

“I am traveling to Prague to participate in the European Political Community summit. A quadrilateral meeting is planned there between myself, the Azerbaijani President, the French President and the President of the European Council. A meeting with the Turkish President is also planned. We had announced about a possibility of this meeting. If nothing changes, these will be the main meetings that essentially fit into the general discussion of the peace agenda,” the Armenian news agency Armenpress on Wednesday quoted Pashinian as saying.

Ankara has been mending ties with several regional countries and has emphasized the need for enhanced cooperation, within this scope steps were also taken with Armenia, particularly following the latest Karabakh war between Baku and Yerevan.

On the other side, Greece and the Greek Cypriot administration will also be participating at the summit.

Erdoğan frequently ruled out a possible meeting with Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis while the latter said he might meet with Türkiye if there is a “Turkish request for a meeting.”

Tensions were increased this week as Türkiye announced a deal with Libya on hydrocarbon research, allowing for oil and gas exploration in Libya’s Mediterranean waters three years after a deal that angered Greece and Egypt.

The deal follows an agreement Türkiye signed with authorities in Tripoli in 2019, which demarcated the countries’ shared maritime borders.

Athens was fiercely opposed to the 2019 deal between Ankara and Tripoli.

On Monday, Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias said he had spoken to his counterpart in Egypt, Sameh Shoukry, and claimed that “both challenged the legitimacy” of the deal.

Dendias said he would visit Cairo on Sunday for “consultations” on the issue.

Tension has risen in recent months between Greece and Turkey, fellow members of the NATO defense alliance, which have long feuded over maritime borders and energy exploration rights in the Aegean and the Eastern Mediterranean seas.

Tackling ‘chronic problems’

This week’s premier EPC summit represents an opportunity for Türkiye, as it has shown a “tremendous performance” in solving problems beyond the abilities of other countries, said the Turkish ambassador to the Czech Republic.

“This meeting is actually an opportunity for Türkiye because, as it has been for centuries, as the most Western country in the East and the most Eastern country in the West, demonstrates a tremendous performance in solving problems that other countries cannot,” Egemen Bağış told Anadolu Agency (AA).

“There is a Russia-Ukraine war going on which threatens all humanity and everyone is worried about, but Türkiye is the only country that can establish a dialogue with both sides,” said Bağış.

Hailing Türkiye’s mediation role between Russia and Ukraine, including the historic Istanbul grain corridor deal, Bağış said: “None of the EU member states could achieve this, but Türkiye did,” adding that the country is skillful in finding solutions to “chronic problems” in the world.

Bağış said that while some countries were trying to block Türkiye from being invited to the EPC, in fact, the country is Europe’s “most important” partner for reaching solutions to many issues, including energy, migration and security.

“Many EU member states, including Spain and France, requested bilateral talks to meet with Erdoğan,” said Bağış. “Many EU and non-EU countries called us and requested an appointment to meet with our president, even to have a quick word with him due to time constraints.”

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