Turkey, Greece soon to resume talks on resolving disputes

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, talks in a televised address, following a cabinet meeting, in Ankara, Turkey, Monday, Sept. 21, 2020. Erdogan, who has long called for a reform of the United Nations, says the world body has failed in its response to the coronavirus pandemic. Erdogan claimed the UN was late in "accepting the existence" of the pandemic and had failed to "make its presence felt" for nations requiring help to fight infections. (Turkish Presidency via AP, Pool)

ANKARA, Turkey — Turkey and Greece have agreed to resume talks aimed at resolving long-festering disputes, following a weeks-long standoff between the neighbors over maritime boundaries and rights to exploit offshore oil and gas resources.

The Greek Foreign Ministry said in a brief statement Tuesday that officials from both countries would “shortly” gather in Istanbul for a 61st meeting — resuming so-called “exploratory” talks that were last held in 2016.

A statement from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s office said both Turkey and Greece were ready to re-start talks. Earlier, Erdogan held a video conference meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and European Council President Charles Michel.

During the meeting, Erdogan also called for a regional conference that would gather all sides involved in the dispute — including Turkish Cypriots — and said the “momentum” for dialogue should be protected,” according to the statement.

Tensions between the two NATO allies flared over energy prospecting rights in an area between Turkey’s southern coast, several Greek islands and the war-divided island of Cyprus. Turkey sent a research vessel, escorted by warships, into the disputed waters this summer.

Following mediation efforts by Germany and others, Turkey pulled back the ship to port and both countries eased their naval presence and halted military exercises, paving the way for a dialogue.

It was not clear when the talks would begin.

Erdogan told Merkel and Michel that “steps to be taken by Greece” would determine the course of the talks.

The Turkish leader also said he hoped that the next European Union summit would breathe new life into Turkish-EU ties, including allowing Turkish citizens visa-free travel rights to Europe and sealing a new agreement on migration.

EU members Greece and Cyprus had been pushing for EU sanctions against Turkey at the Sept. 24-25 summit meeting due to Turkey’s search for energy inside Cyprus’ economic zone. But the summit has been postponed for a week because Michel has gone into quarantine after a close collaborator was diagnosed with COVID-19.

Separately, Erdogan held a telephone conversation with France’s Emmanuel Macron in an effort to patch acute differences over Turkey’s activities in the eastern Mediterranean. France has sided with Greece and Cyprus in the dispute, leading to tensions with Ankara.

Erdogan told Macron that Turkey expects France to display a “responsible and constructive” approach, and that channels for consultation and communication between the two countries should “continuously remain operational,” according to a statement from the Turkish leader’s office.