Turkey, Greece 'ready to start' east Med talks

By: AFP      Published: 07:12 PM, 22 Sep, 2020
Turkey, Greece 'ready to start' east Med talks

Turkey and Greece have agreed to start talks over disputed waters in the eastern Mediterranean, the Turkish presidency said Tuesday after diplomatic efforts to defuse a crisis that has raised fears of conflict.

The two sides said they were "ready to start exploratory talks" during a three-way videoconference between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and European Council chief Charles Michel on Tuesday, it said in a statement.

The issue over gas exploration has pitted the NATO allies against each other, with rival military drills staged in strategic waters between Cyprus and the Greek island of Crete.

The last exploratory talks between Ankara and Athens were held in 2016.

Germany has mediated between the two neighbors to calm down the tensions. 

The presidency said Erdogan remarked "the steps to be taken by Greece will be important in terms of how the exploratory talks and other dialogue channels will proceed."

"The momentum to lower tensions and explore channels of dialogue must be supported by reciprocal steps."

Erdogan added he hoped the European Council summit on Thursday and Friday -- where possible sanctions against Turkey will be discussed -- would "breathe new life" into troubled EU-Turkey relations, the statement added.

He also suggested a regional conference with all sides including Turkish Cypriots would be "positive and constructive" in addressing the eastern Mediterranean issue.

At the centre of the row was Turkey's deployment last month of the seismic research vessel, the Oruc Reis, accompanied by warships near the Greek island of Kastellorizo.

After the ship was ordered back for maintenance, both sides have stressed dialogue, with Erdogan last week saying he was ready to meet with the Greek prime minister.

But Turkish officials have insisted the Oruc Reis would return to its work, while Turkish media on Tuesday reported the ship had left Antalya port.

Ship-tracking website marinetraffic.com showed that the Oruc Reis was off the coast of Turkey near Antalya on Tuesday late afternoon.