Despite acknowledging some differences with its neighbor Turkey over territorial disputes in the Eastern Mediterranean and other decades-old issues, Greece's foreign minister said Sunday that it is not impossible to find common ground for a solution.
While a solution is difficult, it is not impossible, Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias told the Greek newspaper Kathimerini in an interview, adding, "It is not possible to hide under the rug issues where we have different views and approaches."
The two NATO allies have been at odds over decades-old issues including the extent of air and maritime boundaries in the Aegean Sea and the future of the divided island of Cyprus. Turkey and the Turkish Cypriots ruled out discussing a federal system to reunify the island, insisting that a two-state accord is the only way forward. Turkey has also been irked by Greece’s militarization of islands close to the Turkish mainland.
Turkey, which has the longest continental coastline in the Eastern Mediterranean, has rejected maritime boundary claims made by Greece and the Greek Cypriot administration, stressing that these excessive claims violate the sovereign rights of both Turkey and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC).
On Thursday, Dendias and his Turkish counterpart Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu clashed openly at a joint news conference in the Turkish capital Ankara that began with hopes of improved relations but quickly descended into acrimonious accusations from both sides.
The conference opened with conciliatory remarks from Çavuşoğlu in which he praised "the very positive dialogue" they just held in the Turkish capital.
But Dendias used his opening remarks to rattle off a series of longstanding complaints about Turkey – from its search for natural gas in the Eastern Mediterranean to its treatment of the Greek Orthodox minority and the sides' ongoing dispute about migrants.
"It is in our interests that minorities in both countries live in peace, it will have a positive impact on our relations," Çavuşoğlu said. He replied to his Greek counterpart's accusations with regard to alleged violations of sovereignty and remarks over minorities, saying: "Turkey does not violate Greek sovereignty, that is unacceptable."
Following the meeting, Çavuşoğlu said that they have agreed to meet in Geneva at the end of this month.
"We will continue to work together to improve Turkey-Greece relations," he added.
It was the first visit by a Greek foreign minister to Turkey since 2015 in an effort to find common ground for a positive agenda of discussions with Ankara.
Dendias told the paper that while the climate during the talks was good, convergence was not achieved on many issues.
"The issue we face with Turkey is that there is no common denominator regarding the framework of resolving our differences," Dendias told the paper.
He said Greece's view is that demarcating its exclusive economic zone and continental shelf with Turkey in the Aegean Sea and the Eastern Mediterranean must be based on international law.
"I don't see a toughening of Turkey's stance on the issues concerning the Aegean and the East Mediterranean. But I do see fixed positions that are beyond international law, which makes resolution prospects difficult but not impossible," he said.
Dendias said he has invited Çavuşoğlu to Athens to continue talks and this could help to prepare the ground for a meeting of Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis with Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan.
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