Turkey and Greece on Monday launched the first direct diplomatic contact in the form of exploratory talks in nearly five years to address their disputes related to sovereignty rights in the Eastern Mediterranean.
The meeting in Istanbul, led by Turkish Deputy Foreign Minister Sedat Önal and the retired Greek diplomat Pavlos Apostolidis, is expected to further improve the recent positive atmosphere established between Turkey and the European Union. It could also lay the groundwork for the eventual delineation of one of the world’s most recently discovered regions of proven natural gas reserves.
Following the meeting, Turkish diplomatic sources said that Turkey and Greece discussed recent developments, possible steps to take and the current situation.
Presidential spokesperson Ibrahim Kalın also said in a tweet that the solution to all of the problems is possible and Turkey has the will for it, underlining the benefits of regional peace and stability.
The two countries initiated exploratory talks to discuss the issues in the Eastern Mediterranean on March 12, 2002, in an effort to find a fair, sustainable and inclusive solution. These discussions are the 61st of their kind between the nations.
Talks were regularly held up until 2016, but there have been none since then due to political speculation and the Greek side’s reluctance to sit down at the negotiating table. Bilateral discussions continued in the form of political consultations but did not return to the exploratory framework.
NATO members Turkey and Greece participated in deconfliction talks last year, initiated by Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg. Those meetings were designed to reduce the risk of incidents in the Eastern Mediterranean. The talks facilitated the establishment of a hotline between Athens and Ankara, allowing for conflict resolution at sea or in the air.
Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias said over the weekend that Athens was entering the exploratory talks “in good faith,” a comment echoed by Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu.
Turkey’s Defense Minister Hulusi Akar on Saturday also expressed hope that lawful solutions to the bilateral issues troubling Greece and Turkey could be reached.
“In talks with Greece, we hope that issues will be dealt with within the framework of rights, law and equity and that solutions are found,” Akar had said at the opening ceremony for new Turkish-built ships in Istanbul.
Akar underlined Ankara’s expectation that Greece “respects (Turkey’s) rights in the Aegean and Eastern Mediterranean and avoids actions that may cause misunderstandings.”
While Athens only wants to address the demarcation of maritime zones in the Aegean and the Eastern Mediterranean, Ankara says all issues should be tackled, including airspace and the status of some Greek islands in the Aegean.
“It’s not right to choose one (subject) and say, ‘we’re holding exploratory talks on this,'” Çavuşoğlu said last week regarding the issue.
Dendias said on Saturday that the dispute could be submitted for arbitration in The Hague if the exploratory talks collapse.
On Jan. 11, Ankara officially invited Greece to resume the talks, demonstrating how Turkey favors dialogue, cooperation and resolution. On Jan. 20, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said his country would join the talks with “optimism and confidence.”