NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Greece and Turkey have agreed to cancel war games scheduled for next week on each other’s national holidays, in a further sign of easing tensions between the two NATO allies and historic rivals.
“Both Greece and Turkey have decided to cancel military exercises which were planned for next week,” Stoltenberg told reporters after chairing a virtual meeting of NATO defence ministers on Friday, where the two countries made the announcement.
“These are steps in the right direction, they help to reduce the risks of incidents and accidents.”
Earlier this month, Turkey’s foreign ministry accused Greece of planning military manoeuvres in the Aegean Sea to coincide with Turkey’s October 29 national day celebrations. Turkey retaliated by declaring exercises on October 28 – a Greek national holiday.
The two neighbours have been locked in an escalating dispute over conflicting claims to hydrocarbon resources in the eastern Mediterranean and overlapping views on the extent of their continental shelves.
Tensions flared in August when Ankara sent the Oruc Reis research vessel into waters also claimed by Greece and Cyprus.
Ankara had withdrawn Oruc Reis last month to “allow for diplomacy” before an EU summit, at which Cyprus sought sanctions against Turkey, but sent it back this month, prompting an angry rebuke from Greece, France and Germany.
Addressing a news conference after two days of talks on a variety of topics, Stoltenberg confirmed he raised the situation with the Greek and Turkish ministers.
“I will say that we had good and constructive talks and allies expressed strong support for the NATO de-confliction mechanism,” Stoltenberg said.
“I welcome now the fact that we have been able to see some concrete steps in that direction with the cancellation of the two exercises.”
French Defence Minister Florence Parly also hailed the decisions to cancel the military drills, stressing the need to “respect international law and restore stability in the region”.
Stoltenberg also welcomed Germany’s diplomatic mediation in the dispute.
On Thursday, he warned while NATO could help keep the rival militaries apart, it would be down to Ankara and Athens to open dialogue to resolve their long-standing differences.