September 20, 2020.- Turkey says it may soon resume talks with Greece over contested waters in the eastern Mediterranean Sea, where Ankara and Athens are locked in a dispute over oil and gas resources in the region.
Turkish presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin made the remarks on Sunday, adding that the European Union’s emergency meeting on the maritime dispute will not help if EU leaders threaten to impose sanctions on Turkey.
“At this point, the climate has become much more suitable for negotiations to begin,” Kalin said. “…Exploratory talks may start again.”
Turkey and Greece, both NATO members, have been embroiled in a long-running territorial dispute in the eastern Mediterranean over the region’s rich resources.
Tensions between Greece and Turkey spiked last month after Ankara dispatched the seismic research vessel Oruc Reis, accompanied by naval vessels, off the Greek island of Kastellorizo, where Turkey disputes Greek maritime rights. Greece responded by sending its own military vessels to monitor the situation.
However, on Sunday, the Turkish government returned Oruc Reis, along with the two accompanying vessels, to waters near the southern province of Antalya for what it called routine maintenance.
But Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan later said Turkey withdrew the seismic research vessel from disputed Mediterranean waters to allow for diplomacy with Greece.
The withdrawal of the ship by Turkey has been hailed by Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis as a first positive step toward defusing the growing tensions.
Member states of the European Union (EU), particularly France, fully support Greece in the current dispute and have threatened Turkey with sanctions. EU leaders are set to hold an emergency meeting this week, where the bloc will discuss imposing sanctions on Ankara.
Kalin further said “threats of blackmail and sanctions against Turkey do not give results”, adding that “European politicians should know this by now.”
Also on Sunday, Erdogan said in a post on Twitter that Turkey believes the dispute could be resolved through negotiations, while emphasizing that his country would remain determined to defend its rights in the region.
“We want to give diplomacy as much space as possible, by listening to every sincere call,” Erdogan said. “With this vision, we will continue to defend any drop of water and area of our country to the end.”
Erdogan has already held talks with EU Council president Charles Michel as well as German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who are seeking to resolve the issue.
The energy dispute builds on a much longer history of animosity between Turkey and Greece, dating back to 1974 when Turkish forces invaded Cyprus in response to a Greek-backed military coup.
The energy tension has raised the specter of a potential military confrontation as last month one Greek and one Turkish naval vessel were even involved in a minor collision.
Turkey says it has the largest coastline among all other eastern Mediterranean countries but at the same time has a disproportionately small share of the sea because of Greece’s far-flung islands — a number of them even within sight of Turkey’s shores.
Greece argues that its claims to the waters are based on international law and also grounded in past agreements with Turkey.
While Turkey has temporarily withdrawn Oruc Reis from waters claimed by Greece, it has extended the operations of another ship, the Yavuz, in waters disputed with Cyprus.
Featured image: This file handout photograph released by the Turkish Defense Ministry, on August 12, 2020, shows Turkish seismic research vessel ‘Oruc Reis’ (C) as it is escorted by Turkish Naval ships in the Mediterranean Sea, off Antalya. (Photo by AFP)