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Turkey, Greece leaders meet in tense atmosphere, grievances

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan &  Greek President Prokopis Pavlopoulos | Youtube snapshot

The leaders of Greece and Turkey publicly declared their grievances Thursday in a tense news conference as a two-day visit to Athens by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan started with disagreements in the spot light.

The Greek government had expressed hopes that the visit — the first to Greece by a Turkish president in 65 years — would help improve the often-frosty relations between the two neighbors, said reports.

The NATO allies are divided by a series of decades-old issues, including territorial disputes in the Aegean Sea, and have come to the brink of war three times since the early 1970s.

According to the source, Erdogan rattled his Greek hosts on the eve of his visit by telling Greece's Skai television that the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne should be "updated."

The treaty delineated modern Turkey's borders and outlines the status of the Muslim minority in Greece and the Greek minority in Turkey, among other issues.

In a visibly testy first meeting with Greek President Prokopis Pavlopoulos, the two engaged in a thinly-veiled verbal spat over the treaty and Greece's Muslim minority, which Erdogan is to visit Friday.

"Many things have changed in 94 years. If we review these, I believe that all the sides will agree that so many things have to (change.),” Erdogan said.

The argument continued during Erdogan's appearance at an unusually candid joint news conference with Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras.

The two listed a series of grievances their countries have with each other, including religious and minority rights, the divided island of Cyprus and the case of ten Turkish servicemen who have applied for asylum in Greece following a Turkish government crackdown after a failed coup last year.

"It is very important to strengthen our channels of communication, and this can only happen on the basis of mutual respect," Tsipras said, adding "The increasing violations of Greek airspace in the Aegean and particularly the simulated dogfights in the Aegean pose a threat to our relations, and particularly a threat to our pilots.”

For his part, Erdogan maintained that the Lausanne treaty needed to be reviewed, but stressed his country had no territorial claims on Greece.

Tsipras noted it was unclear exactly what Erdogan was seeking with his call to update the 1923 treaty.

Greeks have been shocked at Erdogan's previous comments over possibly revising the Lausanne treaty, fearing that could harbor territorial claims.

Erdogan and Tsipras also sparred over other issues such that the Athens having no official mosque and the issue of Cyprus, the Mediterranean island divided since a 1974 Turkish invasion into a Turkish-occupied north and an internationally recognized Greek Cypriot south.

According to the source, the refugee crisis appeared to be the only issue the two sides did not disagree on, with both noting they had shared a significant burden of the migration flows into the European Union.