Greece and Turkey to meet again to hold East Med exploratory talks

The Eurasian country has been challenging Greece for months with gas exploration missions
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TURKISH FOREIGN MINISTRY / REUTERS  -   Representatives of Greece and Turkey at a meeting to discuss maritime disputes between the two countries in Istanbul on Monday

The first meeting between Greek and Turkish diplomats took place in Istanbul on January 25 to address the dispute over Turkish hydrocarbon explorations in the eastern Mediterranean, reactivating a dialogue that had been blocked since 2016.

Although the parties expressed "optimism" and "hope" and praised the "positive atmosphere", the meeting made little progress. They did not even agree on the issues to be discussed. Greece only wanted to discuss the delimitation of the continental shelf of its islands in the Aegean Sea, while Turkey wanted to extend the talks to define the exclusive economic zones and airspace of the two countries.

Despite the failure to reach common ground during the previous round of talks, the two countries appear willing to continue negotiating and have announced that they will meet again on March 16 in Athens to try to resolve their dispute over hydrocarbon exploration in the eastern Mediterranean, the Greek foreign ministry announced on Wednesday. 

Turkey has been defying Greece for months by sending gas exploration missions, sparking a diplomatic crisis unprecedented since 1996, when the two NATO countries were on the brink of armed conflict. Amid the tension of the past months, Athens decided to buy 18 Rafale fighter jets from France in response to Turkish provocations. 

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PHOTO/REUTERS - The Turkish seismic research vessel Oruc Reis sails on the Bosphorus in Istanbul

Until the EU announced sanctions against Ankara, the Turkish authorities have done little to ease tensions. At the moment, imposing sanctions on Turkey could be extremely damaging to its long-stagnant economy. For the time being, the EU approved sanctions in December targeting officials involved in exploration activities in the eastern Mediterranean.

The latest confrontation between Greece and Turkey took place just over a month ago when the Eurasian country announced that it would again conduct inspections in disputed waters, this time in the Aegean Sea.

The Turkish navy issued a communiqué stating that the research vessel "Cesme" would carry out a hydrographic survey from February 18 to March 2 in disputed international waters in which both Greece and Turkey have shared interests. For its part, Greece expressed its disapproval and sent a letter to the Turkish embassy in Athens and to the Turkish foreign ministry in Ankara denouncing this new expedition.

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AFP/AFP - Map of the western Mediterranean with maritime border claims by Turkey, Greece and Cyprus

This new Turkish incursion came days after Mediterranean and Arab countries, including Greece and Cyprus, held a "Friendship Forum" to which Turkey was not invited.

This 62nd round of exploratory talks, scheduled to take place on March 16, represents a new meeting point for the two countries, although no major political breakthroughs are expected.