Greece says onus on Turkey to ease tensions in East Mediterranean

The US, Greece, ‘reaffirmed their belief that maritime delimitation issues should be resolved peacefully’, a joint statement read.

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, left, welcomes US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo before their talks in Athens [File: Louisa Gouliamaki/AFP]

Greece’s prime minister has said he welcomes moves by Turkey to de-escalate recent tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean, but called on Ankara to show a firmer commitment to improving relations.

Relations between the two NATO allies and neighbours are fraught with disagreements ranging from maritime boundaries to the ethnically divided island of Cyprus.

Tensions came to a head this summer when each side made overlapping claim to swathes of the Eastern Mediterranean, and Turkey dispatched a survey vessel to map out possible oil and gas drilling prospects, infuriating Greece.

Turkey pulled out the vessel in mid-September.

“Our country welcomes as positive a first step made by Turkey towards de-escalating the recent tensions,” Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said on Tuesday, after talks in Athens with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg.

“It now remains to be seen if it is a sincere move or a short-lived manoeuvre,” Mitsotakis said, adding that Greece was committed to dialogue and diplomacy to resolve any disputes.

Last week, Stoltenberg announced the creation of a mechanism to avoid accidental clashes in the Eastern Mediterranean as part of broader efforts to defuse tensions between Ankara and Athens.

The “de-confliction” includes setting up a hotline to avoid accidents in the sea and air. There was a minor collision between Turkish and Greek frigates in August.

“It is up to Turkey to close the path of crisis and open a path of resolution. We are willing to meet it on that second path and I’m optimistic that is the route we will take, to the benefit of our two peoples,” Mitsotakis said.

Stoltenberg said he believed the mechanism would also help to “create space” for diplomatic efforts.

“It is my firm hope that the underlying disputes between two allies can now be addressed purely through negotiations in the spirit of allied solidarity and international law,” he said.

Meanwhile, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told German Chancellor Angela Merkel that last week’s European Union summit decisions were not sufficient to overcome problems in relations between Ankara and the bloc, his office said on Tuesday.

The Turkish presidency said Erdogan spoke to Merkel by video conference and told her that the EU “succumbed to blackmail” from Greece and Cyprus, which had called for sanctions against Ankara.

The US has called for a peaceful resolution to the crisis.

“The United States and Greece … reaffirmed their belief that maritime delimitation issues should be resolved peacefully in accordance with international law,” the US and Greece, also NATO allies, said in a joint statement recently after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met his Greek counterpart Nikos Dendias.

Following the meeting, Pompeo described the visit as “productive” in a Twitter post, adding that the two countries share a “common strategic vision”.

The US also welcomed Greece’s readiness to seek maritime agreements with its neighbours in the region, they said after meeting in the northern Greek city of Thessaloniki.

“We hope the exploratory talks not only get kicked off right, but it’s important that they’re resolved in a way that delivers outcomes that each of the two nations find more than acceptable,” Pompeo told the Athens News Agency.

Pompeo has previously said the US is “deeply concerned” about Turkish actions in the Eastern Mediterranean.

Energy ties

The US hopes to build up its energy ties with Greece, which seeks to become an energy hub in the Balkans and help Europe to diversify its energy resources.

Athens already imports large quantities of US liquefied natural gas (LNG). It is developing a floating LNG storage and regasification unit off the port of Alexandroupolis, which is expected to channel gas to Bulgaria via the Interconnector Greece-Bulgaria (IGB) pipeline and from there to Central Europe by early 2023.

ExxonMobil, France’s Total and Greece’s Hellenic Petroleum have set up a joint venture that will look for gas and oil off the Greek island of Crete.

The US has also expressed interest in the privatisation of the ports of Alexandroupolis and Kavala in northern Greece.

Pompeo and Greek Development Minister Adonis Georgiadis have signed a science and technology agreement. The two countries want to collaborate on artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, 5G and privatisation of strategic infrastructure.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies