Turkish, Greek authorities to meet in Ankara to discuss Eastern Mediterranean

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Turkish and Greek officials will meet in the capital Ankara in the coming days to address issues that have led to rising tensions, Turkey’s defense minister said on Friday.

“We try to solve problems with these (kinds of) meetings. Our work continues in this regard,” Hulusi Akar said after prayers for the Muslim holiday of Qurban Bayram, also known as Eid al-Adha, in Selimiye Mosque in Edirne, northwestern Turkey.

Akar was accompanied by Chief of General Staff Gen. Yaşar Güler, Land Forces Commander Gen. Ümit Dündar, Air Forces Commander Gen. Hasan Küçükakyüz, and Naval Forces Commander Adnan Özbal.

On Thursday, a Greek official said Athens wants to hold talks on the delimitation of maritime boundaries with Turkey.

At a weekly news conference, government spokesman Stelios Petsas stressed the importance of open communication channels with Turkey, especially amid rising tensions, referring to the Aegean and Eastern Mediterranean.

Athens has been at loggerheads with Ankara for a while, and long-standing tensions between the NATO allies escalated recently after Turkey’s navy issued an advisory known as a NAVTEX for seismic surveys in waters between Cyprus and Crete. The advisory notified of seismic surveys by the Oruç Reis and two support vessels in waters south of the Greek islands of Rhodes, Karpathos and Kastellorizo through Aug. 2.

The Oruç Reis was set to carry out exploration in an area that was previously covered by the country’s first seismic exploration vessel, the Barbaros Hayreddin Paşa, and lies within Turkey’s own continental shelf registered with the United Nations, the Turkish Foreign Ministry said in a statement before.

Most recently, Presidential Spokesperson Ibrahim Kalın said Turkey could pause energy exploration operations in the Eastern Mediterranean for a while pending talks with Greece, as a constructive step in regard to Ankara’s relations with neighboring Athens.

Kalın also added that Turkey is ready to do whatever it takes to turn the Eastern Mediterranean into a “sea of peace,” and that, in fact, the area where the Turkish vessel Oruç Reis is expected to conduct exploration and drilling activities is 180 kilometers (112 miles) away from the Greek island of Kastellorizo (Meis in Turkish, Megisti in Greek).

Petsas added that Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis held a phone talk with Greek Cypriot leader Nicos Anastasiadis on the arrival of a Turkish energy exploration vessel, the Barbaros Hayrettin Paşa, in the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC).

Turkey is a guarantor nation for Turkish Cyprus and has consistently contested the Greek Cypriot administration’s unilateral drilling in the Eastern Mediterranean, asserting that the TRNC also has rights to the resources in the area.

In 1974, following a coup aimed at the annexation of Cyprus by Greece, Ankara had to intervene as a guarantor power. In 1983, the TRNC was founded.

The decades since have seen several attempts to resolve the Cyprus dispute, all ending in failure. The latest, held with the participation of the guarantor countries – Turkey, Greece, and the U.K. – came to an end without any progress in 2017 in Switzerland.