In attempt to salvage EU ties, Turkey invites Greece to talks

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ANKARA–In an attempt to salvage seriously frayed ties with the European Union, Ankara has recalled a survey ship that has provoked neighbours’ protests and invited Athens for talks this month.

In December, the EU gave the green light for the expansion of sanctions against Turkey over its exploration of gas reserves in waters claimed by EU members Greece and Cyprus.

Turkey and Greece will hence resume long-suspended exploratory talks over territorial claims in the Mediterranean Sea that brought them close to conflict last year, on January 25 in Istanbul, the NATO members said on Monday.

Ankara and Athens held 60 rounds of talks from 2002 to 2016, but plans for a resumption of talks last year foundered after disagreement over a Turkish seismic exploration vessel deployed to disputed waters.

The ship has since returned to Turkish shores.

“The 61st round of the exploratory talks will take place in Istanbul on 25 January 2021,” the Turkish foreign ministry said in a statement, without elaborating.

The Greek foreign ministry confirmed the date and location in a statement but provided no further details.

Earlier on Monday, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said he was inviting Greece for talks by the end of January on all issues, adding that Athens “has no excuse” since the Oruc Reis returned to Turkey.

Cavusoglu’s invitation follows a decision by Ankara, which faces sanctions from the European Union, to turn a new page in its troubled relations with EU nations.

“Today … we want to extend an open invitation to Greece” Cavusoglu said. “We invite Greece to start exploratory talks, with the first meeting being held in January.”

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said later that Athens was seeking a “fertile and productive” relationship with its neighbour Turkey, adding his government would join the talks once finalised.

Turkey and Greece are at odds over the extent of their continental shelves in the Mediterranean, energy rights in the region, air space and the status of some islands in the Aegean Sea. Since the mid-1970s, the two NATO allies have come to the brink of war three times.

Their most recent dispute threatened to spill into open conflict when Turkish and Greek warships collided in August as they shadowed the Oruc Reis as it surveyed for oil and gas west of Cyprus.

Previous attempts to resume the talks had been complicated by what both sides were prepared to discuss.

The Greek foreign ministry said on Monday it was willing to talk about demarcation of an Exclusive Economic Zone and the continental shelf.

Ankara has said all issues between the NATO members should be discussed, saying that was the format before the talks were suspended in 2016.

On Monday, Cavusoglu said he was ready to meet Greek Foreign Minister Niko Dendias in Tirana after Albania’s premier offered to mediate.

He also said some European Union members, including Germany, which has mediated the dispute thus far, had urged Greece to engage with Turkey.

Source: Arab Weekly

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