Greece optimistic about talks with Turkey but won't discuss sovereignty

ATHENS (Reuters) - Greece will approach talks with Turkey next week over their disputed territorial claims in a hopeful spirit but will not discuss issues it considers as sovereign rights, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said on Wednesday.

Slideshow ( 2 images )

Mitsotakis was speaking ahead of a parliamentary vote on a bill extending Greece’s western territorial waters to 12 nautical miles from six currently, a few days before long-estranged NATO allies Greece and Turkey resume exploratory talks over contested maritime claims in the Aegean.

The talks are to begin in Istanbul on Jan. 25, after a four-year pause.

“We will attend with optimism, self-confidence,” Mitsotakis said, but there would be “zero naivety” from Athens about the talks, which were unofficial and non-binding.

“There will be no discussion on national sovereignty,” the conservative premier added.

Mitsotakis said the discussions were expected to resume at the point where they were interrupted in 2016.

Ankara and Athens held 60 rounds of talks from 2002 to 2016, but plans last year for a resumption foundered over a survey vessel that Turkey sent into disputed waters and disagreements over topics to be covered.

The latter issue remains unresolved, as Greece only wants to address the demarcation of maritime zones in the Aegean and the eastern Mediterranean. Turkey says all issues should be tackled, including air space and the status of some Aegean islands.

“It is not right to pick one of those (issues) and say ‘we’re holding exploratory talks’,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said earlier this week, criticising Greece’s approach as non-constructive.

Mitsotakis told parliament that if the two sides failed to reach agreement, they should at least agree on the way the dispute could be referred to an international judicial body.

Before drafting the bill on the Ionian Sea, which extends the country’s limits for the first time since 1947, Greece held negotiations with its regional neighbours, Italy and Albania.

Parliament approved the draft law late on Wednesday.

Reporting by Angeliki Koutantou and Renee Maltezou in Athens, Tuvan Gumrukcu in Ankara; Editing by Giles Elgood and Mark Heinrich