The new round of exploratory talks between Turkey and Greece will be held on Feb. 22 in Athens, the Greek Foreign Ministry said Saturday, as the two NATO allies seek to address their differences in the Mediterranean.
Neighbors Turkey and Greece are at odds over a number of issues, including competing claims over jurisdiction in the Eastern Mediterranean, air space, energy, the ethnically split island of Cyprus and the status of the islands in the Aegean Sea.
After a five-year hiatus and months of tensions, the two countries agreed last year to resume talks in an effort to reach common ground and allow for formal negotiations to begin.
Athens and Ankara have held three rounds of talks since then but they still appear far apart.
The two countries initiated exploratory talks to discuss the issues in the Eastern Mediterranean on March 12, 2002, in an effort to find a fair, sustainable and inclusive solution. Talks were regularly held up until 2016, but there had been none since then until 2021 due to political speculation and the Greek side's reluctance to sit down at the negotiating table. Bilateral discussions had continued in the form of political consultations but did not return to the exploratory framework.
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).
Turkish leaders have repeatedly stressed that Ankara is in favor of resolving outstanding problems in the region through international law, good neighborly relations, dialogue and negotiations. Instead of opting to solve problems with Ankara through dialogue, Athens has, on several occasions, refused to sit at the negotiation table and opted to rally Brussels to take a tougher stance against Turkey.
Despite having said that it has no intention of entering an arms race with its neighbor and NATO ally Turkey, Greece’s burgeoning arms program is designed to counter Turkish interests in the Eastern Mediterranean, against which France is among the few European Union states to have offered public support in past months. Turkey described Greece’s moves of arming itself as "futile."
Both countries also disagree on the status of the islands in the Aegean. Ankara says that Athens, in violation of international agreements, is militarizing Aegean islands that are under demilitarized status. Commenting on the issue, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said last week that Turkish officials have made frequent warnings and that Turkey will make the highest-level warning possible if Greece continues its provocations regarding the demilitarized islands in the Aegean Sea.
Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu also last week criticized Greece for militarizing islands close to Turkey’s mainland. "If Greece does not give up on this (armament of the islands), the sovereignty of these islands will be discussed," he said.
Çavuşoğlu emphasized that these islands were given to Greece with the Lausanne and Paris Peace Agreements on condition that they would be disarmed, and underlined that Greece began violating this term of the treaty in the 1960s.