Turkey, Greece to resume exploratory talks on territorial claims after four-year break

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Turkey and Greece are set to resume exploratory talks on Jan. 25 in Istanbul over disputed territorial claims after a four-year pause.

On Jan. 11, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu invited Greece to resume the talks amid a softening of rhetoric between Turkey and the European Union.

Greece will not discuss issues it considers sovereign rights, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said last week, speaking ahead of a parliamentary vote on a bill extending Greece’s western territorial waters to 12 nautical miles from the current six.

The Greek move came a few days before long-estranged NATO allies Greece and Turkey resume exploratory talks over contested maritime claims in the Aegean.

If the two sides failed to reach an agreement, they should at least agree on the way the dispute could be referred to an international judicial body, Mitsotakis said.

Ankara and Athens held 60 rounds of talks from 2002 to 2016, which were then suspended over an objection by the Greek side regarding the content.

Bilateral talks continued in the form of political consultations but did not return to the exploratory framework.

The plans last year for a resumption foundered over a survey vessel that Turkey sent into disputed waters and disagreements over topics to be covered.

The latter issue remains unresolved, as Greece only wants to address the demarcation of maritime zones in the Aegean and the eastern Mediterranean. Turkey says all issues should be tackled, including air space and the status of some Aegean islands.

“It is not right to pick one of those [issues] and say ‘we’re holding exploratory talks’,” Çavuşoğlu said earlier this week, criticizing Greece’s approach as non-constructive.

More than 5,000 pages of documents were created during these talks which mainly focused on territorial issues regarding the Aegean Sea, Foreign Minister Çavuşoğlu earlier said.

Turkey and Greece have differences over their maritime boundaries as well as on their respective air space limits.

Turkey accused Greece of militarizing the Aegean islands in violation of international and bilateral agreements. Greece denies Turkish claims and argues that the sole problem between the two neighbors is the maritime delimitation.

Tensions flared in the eastern Mediterranean last year after Ankara sent its Oruç Reis seismic survey ship into disputed waters escorted by gunboats to map out sea territory for possible oil and gas drilling.

Turkey, which has the longest continental coastline in the eastern Mediterranean, has rejected the maritime boundary claims of Greece and the Greek Cypriot administration in the region, stressing that these excessive claims violate the sovereign rights of both Turkey and the Turkish Cypriots.

A Turkish and a Greek warship collided during a standoff.

In December, Turkey has recalled the vessel to pave the way for diplomacy ahead of an EU summit where the block leaders discussed action against Turkey.

Hurriyet Daily News

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