Greece: Talks with Turkey on eastern Med could restart soon

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Turkey’s research vessel, Oruc Reis, rear, anchored off the coast of Antalya on the Mediterranean, Turkey, Sunday, Sept. 13, 2020. Greece’s Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis welcomed the return of a Turkish survey vessel to port Sunday from a disputed area of the eastern Mediterranean that has been at the heart of a summer stand-off between Greece and Turkey over energy rights. (AP Photo/Burhan Ozbilici)

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Greece and Turkey are close to reviving talks on long-standing maritime disputes following a tense standoff over rights to exploit potential offshore natural gas deposits in the eastern Mediterranean, a Greek official said Monday.

“We are close to restarting the exploratory talks,” government spokesman Stelios Petsas told reporters.

Petsas also said U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is expected to visit Greece for a meeting with Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis to discuss the crisis, but no date has been set yet.

NATO members Greece and Turkey have been at odds for decades over maritime boundaries for commercial exploitation in the Aegean Sea, as well as in an area of the eastern Mediterranean between Turkey’s southern coast, several Greek islands and the war-divided island of Cyprus.

Under international pressure, Turkey pulled back a research vessel in the area while both countries have also eased their naval presence and halted military exercises.

Greek-Turkish talks on maritime boundaries were last held in 2016. In recent years, the dispute has been fueled by soured relations between the European Union and Turkey and well as the discoveries of large natural gas fields in other parts of the eastern Mediterranean.

In a televised address, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he believes the dispute can be resolved through dialogue as long as fair proposals are on the table — but he still warned that the alternative was a “fight.”

“In Cyprus, the Mediterranean and the Aegean … we are not impinging on anyone’s rights or honor,” Erdogan said. “We are just asking for respect for our rights.”

Erdogan said: “We believe that there is no issue that cannot be resolved through dialogue, negotiation and agreement. Of course, this approach is valid on condition that they come in front of us with proposals that fit fairness and reality. Otherwise, we could not evade any fight.”

Turkey argues that Greek islands near its coastline should be excluded from the calculation of commercial maritime boundaries that far exceed the limits of territorial waters. Athens calls the Turkish position a violation of international law, but says it is willing to settle the dispute at an international court.

Following a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels, Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias said his colleagues regarded the withdrawal of the Turkish research ship “a positive indication, but a preliminary indication.”

“Turkey will have to provide many more indications that it respects international law,” Dendias added. EU leaders will discuss the matter later this week.

Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said Turkish and Greek teams would hold a fifth round of talks at the NATO headquarters on Tuesday aimed at preventing accidents or armed conflict between the two allies.

Separately, Turkish prosecutors launched an investigation into a Greek right-wing newspaper, Dimokratia, over a front-page headline last week that used an obscene expression in Turkish against Erdogan. The investigation, triggered by a complaint by Erdogan’s lawyers Monday, could lead to a court case in Turkey against the newspaper’s journalists.

Last week, the Turkish Foreign Ministry summoned Greece’s ambassador over the incident. The Greek Foreign Ministry condemned the headline while stressing that Greece respects freedom of the press.

Thousands of people have been convicted in Turkey for insulting the president, which is a crime.

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