Turkish, Greek officials meet for talks to reduce conflict risks - Turkey

ANKARA (Reuters) - Turkish and Greek officials met at NATO headquarters on Thursday for talks aimed at preventing further military escalation in the eastern Mediterranean, Turkey’s Defence Ministry said, as Greece called for “meaningful” European Union sanctions on Turkey.

FILE PHOTO: Flags of NATO member countries are seen at the Alliance headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, November 26, 2019. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir

Military officials from the two countries, both NATO members, were due to hold talks in Brussels on Tuesday after an initial contact last week, but NATO postponed the talks.

The “military de-confliction” talks, announced by Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg last week, aim to prevent an escalation from incidents such as a collision between Turkish and Greek warships last month.

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 both view the area as part of their continental shelf.

Greece says any discussion is contingent on the departure of Turkish vessels from disputed waters, but Turkey says it will not engage in talks under pre-conditions.

The technical talks at NATO will not address underlying territorial disputes, but could discuss establishing a hotline between the two countries’ military forces.

“During the meeting where measures to prevent any potential interferences by military elements were discussed, an exchange of ideas was carried out,” the ministry said in a statement. It said the next meeting was being planned for the “coming days”.

Greek officials did not immediately comment on the talks.

Greece has been calling for EU sanctions on Turkey. On Thursday, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said the bloc must impose “meaningful” sanctions on Turkey unless it pulls its vessels from the area. He said Turkey and Greece needed dialogue “but not when held at gunpoint”.

The dispute in the eastern Mediterranean has also delayed EU sanctions on Belarus, four EU diplomats said, while exacerbating tensions between Turkey and France, which have been at odds over a host of issues.

Addressing the European Parliament Foreign Affairs Committee on Thursday, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said the EU had no jurisdiction on maritime boundary matters and that Ankara expected the bloc to remain unbiased while evaluating the dispute.

“By acting as an international court, defending one side’s claims over the issue, the EU has become a party in the problem unfortunately,” Cavusoglu said.

EU leaders will meet on Sept. 24-25 to address the issue.

Reporting by Ece Toksabay and Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by Daren Butler and Frances Kerry