Concerns that official Ankara is using two Greek servicemen held in the neighboring country as "bargaining chips" to pressure Athens for the return of eight Turkish officers acquired more weight over the weekend, with none other than Recep Tayyip Erdogan saying he's "open to the prospect".
Speaking on the pro-government NTV television network, the increasingly authoritarian Erdogan said he would consider the release of the two Greeks, which remain incarcerated in Turkey since March 1, if Greece extradites the eight Turks. The latter, army officers and NCOs, fled to Greece aboard a military helicopter immediately after a July 2016 coup collapsed in the neighboring country. Ankara considers the men as Gulenist coup conspirators.
In describing a "grand bazaar"-like diplomatic scheme, Erdogan was quoted by AFP as saying:
"They are asking us to give back the Greek soldiers, and we told them, 'if you have such a request you must give us the Gulenist soldiers involved in the coup against our state ... If they surrender them to us, we will re-examine the situation with the Greek soldiers," he added.
Meanwhile, in another Greece-related statement by Erdogan, in the same television interview he said Ankara does not desire more tension in the Aegean, "but wants peace".
His statement comes after a barrage of criticism and threats aimed at Athens by top Turkish government officials over the recent period, some of whom claimed Greece was sheltering terrorists.
"We need peace now," was the comment attributed to Erdogan. "After all, peace with you (Greece) doesn't resemble others."
He also said Greek PM Alexis Tsipras was "young and dynamic", as he wants to take a "new step forward."