Turkey and Greece resume talks on maritime disputes after five years
By Tuvan Gumrukcu and Renee Maltezou
ANKARA / ATHENS (Reuters) - Turkey and Greece resumed talks on Monday to resolve longstanding maritime disputes, ending a five-year hiatus after months of tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean.
The neighboring NATO members are at odds over claims to Mediterranean waters and energy rights, the airspace and the status of some islands in the Aegean Sea. In 60 rounds of talks from 2002 to 2016, they made hardly any progress.
Plans to resume talks failed last year over Turkey's deployment of a seismic survey vessel in controversial waters and disagreements over what issues they would address. The ship was withdrawn to Turkish coasts last year.
Ankara and Athens agreed this month to resume talks in Istanbul to test Turkey's hopes of improving relations with the European Union, which EU member Greece has supported and threatened sanctions against Turkey.
When talks resumed, French Defense Minister Florence Parly said France would make proposals to Greece to renew its frigate fleet and had a € 2.5 billion ($ 3.04 billion) deal to buy 18 Dassault-made frigates Rafale fighters through Greece completed jets.
"Under the strong leadership of our President, all problems, including the Aegean Sea, can be resolved and our will to do so is strong," said Turkish President Ibrahim Kalin, who attended the talks on Monday.
Washington welcomed the talks and said it supported efforts to ease tensions in the eastern Mediterranean. "The United States applauds ... the commitment of both governments to this process," US State Department spokesman Ned Price said on Twitter.
The exploratory talks should lead to issues of dispute in order to enable formal negotiations. Despite the agreement to resume talks, Ankara and Athens appeared to have not yet agreed on the issues to be addressed in advance of the meeting on Monday.
Athens has announced that it will only discuss the delimitation of the exclusive economic zones and the continental shelf in the Aegean and Eastern Mediterranean, not issues of "national sovereignty", while Ankara has announced that it will deal with all issues, including airspace and the Aegean Islands Table.
Greek government spokesman Christos Tarantilis said on Monday that Greece "participated in the talks in good faith and expects Turkey to act similarly" and reiterated the Greek position that the talks are unofficial and focus only on sea zones.
The agenda for Monday's talks, which lasted more than three hours, was not disclosed. Another round of talks will take place in Athens, a Greek diplomatic source said, without giving any further details.
Despite the technical disagreement, both sides expressed cautious optimism, though they still barged barbs in the days leading up to Monday's meetings.
Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said last week Greece would approach the talks with optimism but "without naivety" while Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said he hoped the resumption of talks would usher in a new era.
Analysts said an immediate breakthrough was unlikely, given decades of political differences, but resuming the dialogue was an important first step after EU pressure on Ankara.
(Additional reporting by Angeliki Koutantou and James Mackenzie in Athens; editing by Daren Butler and Timothy Heritage / Mark Heinrich)
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