Turkey, Greece ready to ‘start exploratory’ talks, Ankara says

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Turkey and Greece are ready to resume exploratory talks over their contested maritime claims in the eastern Mediterranean, the Turkish presidency said, after a call between the leaders of Turkey, Germany and the European Union on Tuesday.

The two countries broke off talks in 2016 and tensions flared last month after Turkey sent a seismic survey ship into disputed waters, escorted by gunboats. Turkish and Greek warships collided, highlighting a danger of military escalation.

Since then Turkey returned the Oruc Reis survey ship to port, saying the move would allow for diplomacy ahead of a European Union summit this week where EU members Greece, Cyprus and France had been pushing for tough action against Turkey.

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On Tuesday President Recep Tayyip Erdogan held a video conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose country has mediated in the dispute, and EU Council President Charles Michel.

“At the summit, where developments in the eastern Mediterranean were ... discussed, it was stated that Turkey and Greece are ready to start exploratory talks,” Turkey’s presidency said in a statement.

It gave no timing for a resumption of the talks but a senior Turkish official said they could begin by the end of the month. “There are positive developments,” the official said.

Erdogan said he hoped the EU summit starting on Thursday would bring new impetus to Turkey-EU ties, adding concrete steps on updating a customs union between the two sides, visa-free travel and migration would help put ties on a positive basis.

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In a video address to the United Nations General Assembly, Erdogan also called for a regional conference of Mediterranean coastal states, which he said should include breakaway Turkish Cypriots, to address maritime disputes.

Turkey currently has two oil and gas exploration ships in waters off the coast of the divided island of Cyprus, angering authorities in Nicosia. Ankara does not recognize the southern Greek Cypriot government on the divided island, and is the only country to recognize the Turkish Cypriot state to the north.

Turkey has also signed a maritime demarcation deal with Libya which conflicts with a rival deal between Greece and Egypt.

Erdogan said Turkey preferred to solve disagreements “justly and in an appropriate way” through talks, but added that “futile” attempts to exclude Turkey from plans in the eastern Mediterranean could not succeed.

“We are proposing the holding a regional conference where the rights and interests of all coastal states are taken into consideration, and where Turkish Cypriots are present too.”

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