Will Turkey, Greece resume exploratory talks soon?

Will Turkey, Greece resume exploratory talks soon?

When it’s about ties between Turkey and Greece, especially in the context of tensions in the Aegean Sea and the Mediterranean, it’s hard and even risky to report in 100 percent precision about the scheduled bilateral meetings and joint announcements.

Let’s remember that an Ankara-Athens joint declaration, which was supposed to be released on Aug. 7 for the resumption of the exploratory talks, had to be canceled because Greece signed a maritime delineation agreement with Egypt just a day before it.

That’s why this columnist is cautiously informing about a planned but not confirmed meeting between Turkish and Greek foreign ministers, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu and Nikos Dendias, in Bratislava on Oct. 8. Both ministers are believed to have attended the GLOBSEC Bratislava Forum on Oct. 7 and 8.

If things develop in the right way, the two ministers are expected to announce the resumption of the exploratory talks on Thursday. Even if they do so, it’s not certain whether they will be able to detail all the modalities and the framework of the much-anticipated talks, which were stalled in 2016 after 60 rounds of talks since 2002. The Greek side had already stated that the first round of talks would be held in Istanbul in the coming weeks.

Along with a de-confliction mechanism established at NATO, the resumption of technical talks for the resolution of maritime disputes and other problems stemming from the Aegean Sea will surely be relieving both for Turkey and Greece as well as for NATO and the European Union after the summer-long crisis in the region. Both mechanisms will sure mitigate the risks of a new escalation in the Aegean and Mediterranean.

Besides, Turkey’s decision to withdraw the Yavuz drilling ship off Cyprus is another positive step for the de-escalation and fresh diplomatic initiatives for resolving existing problems between Greek and Turkish Cypriots over the distribution of the hydrocarbon revenues.

More importantly, the alleviation of tension in the eastern Mediterranean will also help Turkey and the EU to discuss ways for a comprehensive engagement in line with the last week’s EU Council conclusions.

Three main issues will likely constitute the positive agenda, the customs union, visa liberalization, and revising the migrant deal of 2016. As the EU Council decisions stressed, eyes will be on the EU Commission, which has “to develop a proposal for re-energizing the EU-Turkey agenda.”

In a videoconference on Tuesday, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and German Chancellor Angela Merkel assessed the conclusions of the EU Council meeting with expectations that Germany, as the EU term president, will create conditions for continued high-level dialogue between Turkey and EU in the next period.

The last few weeks have shown that pragmatism can prevail should necessary conditions for diplomatic maneuvers be provided. Equally important for all the relevant parties is to pay the utmost attention to not break the negotiation table. Turkey and Greece will play a key role in this process, but they need to be encouraged and supported by all the NATO and EU countries.

Note: This column was penned before the Turkish and Turkish Cypriot leadership announced the re-opening of the beaches of the town of Varosha which was abandoned since 1974. This could certainly have an impact on the Turkish-Greek dialogue.

Serkan Demirtaş,