Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has appealed to Turkey to find a diplomatic solution to the tension in the eastern Mediterranean, saying he hopes to build a partnership between the historic rival neighbours.
Mitsotakis, speaking on Friday in an address to the virtual UN General Assembly (UNGA), also accused Turkey of “aggression” with its recent search for energy resources in contested waters but added: “I remain an optimist.”
“Let’s meet, let’s talk and let’s seek a mutually acceptable solution. Let’s give diplomacy a chance,” Mitsotakis said to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
“If after all we still cannot agree, then we should trust the wisdom of the International Court at The Hague.”
In a recorded message before the backdrop of the Acropolis, Mitsotakis pointed to the United Arab Emirates’s (UAE) recent recognition of Israel as a sign that Greece and Turkey can overcome historic animosity.
At the centre of the Greece-Turkey dispute was Ankara’s deployment last month of a seismic research vessel, the Oruc Reis, and an accompanying fleet of warships in disputed waters near the Greek island of Kastellorizo.
Turkey claims it has equal rights to the resources in those waters, which Greece considers to be its own.
Athens responded by shadowing the Turkish flotilla with its warships, and by staging naval exercises with several European Union allies and the UAE in its show of force.
The EU repeatedly urged Turkey to stop its exploration activities and threatened to slap sanctions on Ankara if it refused to solve the dispute through dialogue. France, especially, has backed Greece by sending warships and fighter jets to the region.
In mid-August, Turkey warned Greece of retaliation against any attack on its survey vessel and accused France of acting like a bully.
Tensions eased when Ankara pulled the vessel back to the shore for maintenance on September 13 after its one-month mission.
However, it extended the operations of another research vessel, Barbaros Hayrettin Pasa, off Cyprus until October 18, according to a message on maritime alert system NAVTEX.
Turkey’s drillship Yavuz will also remain off Cyprus until October 12.
To revive a diplomatic dialogue, on Tuesday the two NATO members stated they were ready to resume explanatory talks to address their contested maritime claims.
The news was announced by the Turkish presidency following a call between the leaders of Turkey, Germany and the EU.
In a video conference between President Erdogan, Chancellor Angela Merkel and EU Council President Charles Michel, the Turkish president said “partial momentum” secured by establishing dialogue should be maintained with reciprocal steps.
In his own address to the UNGA on Tuesday, Erdogan called for “sincere” dialogue to settle the growing dispute, rejecting any “harassment” by the West over the issue.
“Our priority is to settle disputes with sincere dialogue, based on international law and on an equitable basis,” Erdogan said. “However, I would like to clearly state that we will never tolerate any imposition, harassment, or attack in the opposite direction.”