Daily Sabah (Turkey)

Ankara, Athens ramp up efforts for dialogue in maritime rifts

As Ankara and Athens seek a way forward, both countries’ foreign ministers are expected to discuss a range of disagreeme­nts including the Eastern Mediterran­ean, Aegean, migration and the Cyprus issue

- ISTANBUL / DAILY SABAH

GREEK Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias was received by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in the capital Ankara yesterday as both countries seek a path toward dialogue following a tumultuous year marred by conflicts over the Eastern Mediterran­ean.

Following the meeting with Erdoğan, Dendias and Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu are expected to discuss a series of disagreeme­nts that have been plaguing the two countries’ bilateral relations.

The visit is the first between the two nations after tensions rose high in 2020 over maritime boundaries and energy exploratio­n rights in the Eastern Mediterran­ean, leading to a military buildup that featured warships from the two countries facing off.

Yet, recently, the two NATO allies have adopted a more conciliato­ry tone and have been seeking dialogue.

Turkish and Greek diplomats have since met in Istanbul and Athens, resuming a series of meetings designed to build trust between the historic regional rivals. The explorator­y talks came after a five-year hiatus.

The two NATO allies have been at odds over decades-old issues, including the extent of air and maritime boundaries in the Aegean Sea and the future of the divided island of Cyprus. Turkey and the Turkish Cypriots ruled out discussing a federal system to reunify the island, insisting that a two-state accord is the only way forward.

TURKEY has also been irked by Greece’s militariza­tion of islands close to the Turkish mainland.

Turkey, which has the longest continenta­l coastline in the Eastern Mediterran­ean, has rejected maritime boundary claims made by European Union members Greece and the Greek Cypriot administra­tion, stressing that these excessive claims violate the sovereign rights of both Turkey and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC). Both sides cite a range of decades-old treaties and internatio­nal agreements to support their conflictin­g territoria­l claims.

Turkish leaders have repeatedly stressed that Ankara is in favor of resolving outstandin­g problems in the region through internatio­nal law, good neighborly relations, dialogue and negotiatio­ns. Instead of opting to solve problems with Ankara through dialogue, Athens has, on several occasions, refused to sit at the negotiatio­n table and opted to rally Brussels to take a tougher stance against Turkey.

A 2019 maritime demarcatio­n deal between Ankara and Libya’s Tripolibas­ed Government of National Accord has also infuriated Greece, which says the accord is illegal. Athens has called for the agreement to be annulled, but both Ankara and Libya’s new Government of National Unity have pledged commitment to it.

On Wednesday, Greece said it had agreed with Libya to hold talks on marking out their maritime zones in the Mediterran­ean, after a meeting with the president of the Libyan Presidenti­al Council, Mohamed Menfi.

Asked about the developmen­t, Çavuşoğlu said Libya could hold talks on maritime demarcatio­n with any country, adding this was not a risk to the accord between Ankara and Tripoli.

Turkey and Greece have also traded accusation­s over unauthoriz­ed migration. The Turkish coast guard, as well as numerous refugee rights organizati­ons and aid groups, have accused the Greek coast guard of conducting pushbacks – illegal summary deportatio­ns – by returning their boats to Turkey without allowing them to apply for asylum in Greece.

Greece, for its part, denies it carries out pushbacks and accuses Turkey of failing to crack down on migrant smugglers operating from its shores.

ROW STRAINED TIES WITH EU

The dispute with Athens also strained Ankara’s relations with the European Union as a whole.

Turkey-EU relations are marked by disputes on several issues, including the Eastern Mediterran­ean tensions, Turkey’s role in Syria, the migrant crisis and the stalemate in Turkey’s accession process to the bloc. During a meeting in Brussels on Dec. 10, EU leaders decided to draw up a list of Turkish targets to sanction.

But since then, the rhetoric on all sides has mellowed dramatical­ly as Turkey and the bloc voiced their intent to “turn a new page.” Turkey has recently reiterated that it is part of the bloc and sees its future in the EU, underlinin­g that it will continue efforts toward full EU membership.

Turkish officials have also said that they hope for progress in 2021 and expect the bloc to take definitive action to this end. Most recently, the EU in January decided to hold off on potentiall­y sanctionin­g Turkey thanks to positive developmen­ts made during a meeting with the bloc’s foreign ministers.

 ??  ?? Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias (L) and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan before their meeting in Ankara, Turkey, 15 April 2021.
Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias (L) and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan before their meeting in Ankara, Turkey, 15 April 2021.

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