ATHENS/ANKARA (Reuters) - Turkey and Greece have agreed to resume talks over their contested maritime claims in the eastern Mediterranean after a four year hiatus following weeks of tensions that culminated in a collision between their warships.
The talks, which broke off in 2016 after 60 rounds that made little progress over 14 years, will resume in “the near future” in Istanbul, the Greek Foreign Ministry said in a statement, without elaborating.
Turkey also gave no timing for a resumption of the talks but a senior official said they could begin by the end of the month. “There are positive developments,” the official said.
Tensions flared last month after Ankara sent its Oruc Reis seismic survey ship into disputed waters, escorted by gunboats, to map out sea territory for possible oil and gas drilling.
A Turkish and a Greek warship collided during the standoff.
Since then, Turkey has recalled the Oruc Reis, saying the move would allow for diplomacy ahead of an EU summit where members Greece, Cyprus and France are pushing for tough action against Turkey. The meeting was postponed on Tuesday to Oct. 1-2.
On Tuesday, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan held a video summit with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose country has mediated in the dispute, and EU Council President Charles Michel.
“At the summit, where developments in the eastern Mediterranean were ... discussed, it was stated that Turkey and Greece are ready to start exploratory talks,” Turkey’s presidency said in a statement.
Omer Celik, spokesman for Erdogan’s ruling AK Party, said preparations for the resumption of talks were under way and that the two sides were working on the parameters.
Erdogan said he hoped the EU summit would bring new impetus to Turkey-EU ties, adding steps on updating a customs union between the two sides, visa-free travel and migration would help put ties on a positive basis.
In a video address to the U.N. General Assembly, Erdogan also called for a regional conference of Mediterranean coastal states, which he said should include the breakaway Turkish Cypriots, to address maritime disputes.
Turkey has two oil and gas exploration ships in waters off the coast of the divided island of Cyprus, angering authorities in Nicosia. Ankara does not recognise the southern Greek Cypriot government on the divided island, and is the only country to recognise the Turkish Cypriot state to the north.
Turkey has also signed a maritime demarcation deal with Libya which conflicts with a rival deal between Greece and Egypt.
Erdogan said Turkey preferred to solve disagreements “justly and in an appropriate way” through talks, but added that “futile” attempts to exclude Turkey from plans in the eastern Mediterranean could not succeed.
Additional reporting by Orhan Coskun and Ali Kucukgocmen; Writing by Dominic Evans; Editing by William Maclean and Alison Williams
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