ANKARA (Reuters) - Talks between Turkish and Greek officials at NATO headquarters on how to avoid military escalation in the eastern Mediterranean have been postponed until later this week, Turkish Defence Ministry sources said on Tuesday.
The “military de-confliction” talks, announced by NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg last week, aim to prevent an escalation arising from incidents such as a collision last month between Greek and Turkish warships.
The warships had been shadowing a Turkish vessel surveying for oil and gas in disputed Mediterranean waters west of Cyprus, an operation that Greece condemned as illegal. Ankara and Athens each claim the area is part of their continental shelf.
Military delegations from the two NATO members had been due to hold talks at the alliance’s headquarters in Brussels on Tuesday, following an initial contact last week, but the Turkish sources said the meeting had been delayed until Thursday.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu accused Greece of backtracking on an agreement to hold the technical talks - which will not address the underlying territorial dispute, but could discuss establishing a hotline between the two militaries and consistent use of naval call signs.
“If Greece believes in itself, if it has the courage and trusts its thesis, then ... let it come and sit at the table,” Cavusoglu told a news conference in Ankara.
Athens says that any discussion requires the departure of Turkish vessels from disputed waters, and a Greek source told Reuters their presence was causing tensions and a “concentration of a great number of military forces in the area”.
Greece seeks dialogue but not “under threats, blackmail and provocations,” Greek President Katerina Sakellaropoulou said.
Greece has also been pushing the European Union to sanction Turkey. European Council President Charles Michel said on Friday the bloc’s leaders will decide on a “carrot and stick” approach to Turkey during a Sept. 24-25 meeting.
A NATO official said talks had begun to “establish mechanisms for military de-confliction”, but declined to elaborate.
Reporting by Ece Toksabay and Tuvan Gumrukcu in Ankara, Renee Maltezou in Athens, and Robin Emmott in Brussels; Editing by Dominic Evans and Peter Graff
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