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Erdogan says Greek PM Mitsotakis 'doesn't exist' for him after speech to US Congress

Turkish leader's comments mark a departure from earlier efforts to defuse tensions between the two Nato allies
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is applauded by AK Party members during a meeting at the Turkish Grand National Assembly in Ankara, on 18 May 2022 (AFP)

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that he no longer recognises Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, after the latter's criticism of Ankara during his recent trip to the United States.

"He [Mitsotakis] no longer exists for me," Erdogan said in a televised address following a cabinet meeting on Monday. "I will never agree to meet with him. We will continue forward with honourable politicians."

Mitsotakis travelled to the US last week where he delivered an address to a joint session of Congress, the first in history for a Greek leader.

In the speech, he warned lawmakers against supporting the Biden administration's efforts to sell military hardware to Turkey, saying the move could unleash new instability in the Eastern Mediterranean.

"The last thing that Nato needs, at a time when our focus is on helping Ukraine defeat Russia’s aggression, is another source of instability on Nato’s southeastern flank," Mitsotakis said.

The Biden administration has recently signalled its willingness to pursue new arms deals with Turkey.

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In May, it sent an informal request to Congress asking for approval for the sale of missiles and other equipment to Ankara. That move is seen as a litmus test for a larger sale of F-16s, which the administration says would advance US and Nato interests.

"We had agreed with him to not include third countries in our dispute," Erdogan said in reference to his Greek counterpart. "Despite this, last week, he visited the US and spoke at Congress and warned them not to give F-16s to us."

"From that point, there was no Mitsotakis for me. The United States will probably not act in accordance with the words of Greece," Erdogan added.

The Greek leader's visit capped a period of burgeoning ties with the US, while relations between Washington and Ankara have deteriorated over the purchase of the S-400 missile system from Russia, as well as continuous foreign policy differences in Syria, the Caucuses, and the Eastern Mediterranean, where Greece and Turkey have clashed.

Tensions between the historic rivals spiked in the summer of 2020 when Greek and Turkish warships collided.

Erdogan has promoted a doctrine known as the "Blue Homeland", which claims sovereignty over a host of Greek islands and denies their right to Exclusive Economic Zones. Athens has also accused Turkish fighter jets of frequently violating its airspace.

It's unclear whether Erdogan's comments will ratchet up tensions between the two Nato allies. The Turkish and Greek leaders had met in April in a surprise move to try and ease tensions amid the war in Ukraine.

At the time, Turkey's Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu heralded the thaw in relations, claiming that the channels of communication between the two were "more open today than ever before".

But on Monday, Erdogan said Turkey was calling off a Strategic Council Meeting with Greece planned for later this year.