Turkey, Greece to resume Aegean talks
Turkish and Greek officials will come together next month to discuss what confidence building measures they can impose to avoid new confrontations in the Aegean Sea, Greece’s top diplomat said, while also informing about an agreement for the relaunch of exploratory talks for the resolution of all problems stemming from the Aegean.
“We should start to be in constant dialogue with small steps without big objectives. An assessment meeting between the officials from the two foreign ministries for the confidence building measures will be held on April 12,” Greek Foreign Minister Georgios Katrougalos told a joint press conference with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu on March 21 in Antalya.
The Greek top diplomat also announced his agreement with Çavuşoğlu for the resumption of exploratory talks between the two countries which have been suspended in the wake of a failed coup in mid-2016 in Turkey.
Ties between Turkey and Greece have always been shaky due to the lack of a border line in the Aegean Sea that causes unending disputes over territorial waters and continental shelfs. Efforts to resolve them diplomatically have not yet yielded results although the two parties are still committed to stick with talks to this end.
For his part, Çavuşoğlu confirmed that talks will be held between the two ministries on April 12 on confidence building measures so that all these problems can be resolved peacefully. Turkey and Greece had imposed dozens of confidence building measures in the past that included temporary pause to military drills in the Aegean Sea during the tourism season.
One other top issue the two ministers discussed was a recent ongoing hydro-carbon tension in the eastern Mediterranean Sea. The two ministers met and reviewed the situation just a day after the prime ministers of Greece and Greek Cyprus held a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Tel Aviv.
“Any project [in this region] that does include Turkey is not realistic. Turkey has rights stemming from international law,” Çavuşoğlu stressed, while praising his counterpart’s earlier remarks on the fact that Turkey should not be excluded.
Apart from Turkey’s rights to conduct activities to explore hydro-carbon reserves, the Turkish Cypriots also have their own rights off the island, the Turkish minister said. “We had a very simple demand for securing the rights of the Turkish Cypriots [after the beginning of Greek Cypriot explorations]. This guarantee can be provided through the European Union or other formulas can be found. We have shown possible flexibility on that.”
Turkey began its own explorations in the region after the Greek Cypriot government denied to secure the rights of the Turkish Cypriots, Çavuşoğlu stated, “We will start drilling operations in the coming period. This issue might have been resolved simply.”
The Greek minister sought to assure his counterpart that neither Greece nor Greek Cypriots were aiming to monopolize the hydro-carbon resources in the region, underlining that the problem should be resolved through international law and without escalating tension between parties.
“We, as Greece, believe and support that Cyprus has its own rights in its economic exclusive zone. This right concerns both communities [of the island]. We are not cold to assessments that hydro-carbon resources should be used to the benefit of both sides. We have a proposal for the formation of a fund for the fair distribution of the revenues,” he stated.
Turkish and Greek ministers also discussed a potential new effort for the resumption of negotiations for the settlement of the decades-old Cypriot conflict.
“We are not in a position to digest another failure. We should not restart talks just for the sake of a conversation. These talks should be goal-oriented and not open-ended. We should determine the frame beforehand,” Çavuşoğlu said, blaming the Greek Cypriots for the collapse of the latest initiative in Crans Montana.
Katrougalos, for his part, described Crans Montana as a conference in which both sides made important progress for a lasting settlement, but at the same time criticized the Turkish part’s insistence on the continuation of the guarantees, one of the main parameters of the talks that pledge important roles for the three guarantor countries, Turkey, Greece and the United Kingdom.
The Greek minister described these guarantees as “outdated.”
Çavuşoğlu rejected his guest’s characterization of this parameter. “We observe unilateral efforts [by Greek Cyprus]. This makes Turkey’s guarantees much more important.”
He also criticized the Greek Cypriot government for not willing to share authorities with the Turkish community. “Therefore, we believe categorizing guarantee and security agreements as outdated is not a realist approach.”