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Greece, Turkey to resume exploratory talks by early March - PM

ATHENS, Feb 4 (Reuters) - Greek and Turkish officials are likely to meet again at the end of Feburary or in early March to revive efforts to resolve a maritime boundary dispute, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said.

The two NATO allies have been at odds over a number of decades-old issues including the extent of their continental shelves, overflights in the Aegean Sea and ethnically split Cyprus.

In 2002-2016, they held dozens of rounds of talks to try to lay the groundwork for full negotiations over the delimitation of maritime zones.

After a four-year pause, prolonged by a dispute over overlapping claims for energy resources in the Eastern Mediterranean last year, the two resumed the exploratory talks on Jan. 25.

That meeting in Istanbul, the 61st round, ended after a few hours but both sides said they had agreed to meet again in Athens.

Mitsotakis said the talks are likely to resume by early March, ahead of an EU summit on March 25.

“I expect within the next month, at some point end of February, beginning of March. It’s a good step in the right direction,” he told Reuters.

Obstacles remain, including what each side is willing to discuss. Greece says it will only address the demarcation of maritime zones in the Aegean and the Eastern Mediterranean. Turkey says all issues between the two sides should be tackled, including air space and the status of some Greek islands.

“Turkey needs to be consistent in terms of its behaviour, this cannot just be a decoy to avoid the discussion at the EU council in March,” Mitsotakis said.

Greece, which has recently reached maritime accords with Italy and Egypt, argues that if the two sides fail to agree, they should refer the dispute to an international tribunal. (Reporting by Reuters staff; Writing by Renee Maltezou; editing by John Stonestreet)

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