In Uncommon Waters: Greece, Turkey Will Try Talking Down Tension

Αssociated Press

Το τουρκικό ερευνητικό πλοίο Oruc Reis, την Τετάρτη 22 Ιουλίου κοντά στις ακτές της Αττάλειας. (Semih Ersozler/DHA via AP)

ANKARA -- After being near the brink of a conflict over Turkish provocations in the Aegean and East Mediterranean – Greece puts its military on high alert – the countries have set a deadline for the end of August to try diplomacy that has repeatedly failed.

Officials are trying, said Kathimerini, to establish the boundaries for negotiations to deal with Turkey's claims for waters off Greek islands where it planned to hunt for oil and gas as it's been doing in Cypriot waters, undeterred by the European Union.

The groundwork for exploratory talks – talking about what talks will be talked if they eventually talk – is being set, the paper said, with Germany taking a key role as a broker to settle differences.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel had spoken with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan when the tension was near a breaking point over his insistence that a Turkish energy research vessel and warship would go into Greek waters off the island of Kastellorizo, as he said would also happen off Crete.

Merkel, the paper said, had talked him down as Turkey still harbors hopes of joining the EU after 15 years of failed infrequent talks, with Erdogan decreasing the chances after purging civil society, the courts, military and jailing journalists after a failed 2016 coup attempt against him. 

A series of so-called Confidence Building Measures (CBM's) did nothing to stop Erdogan from pressing provocations and as he ignored soft sanctions from the EU and American calls to ratchet down.

The United Nations and NATO, the defense alliance to which Turkey and Greece belong, have stayed out of the dilemma and done essentially nothing to try to calm the troubled waters between the countries even as Turkey signed a maritime deal with Libya dividing the seas between them.

Greece's New Democracy wants to limit the negotiations – saying it would not accept “blackmail” pressure – to the Continental Shelf and maritime zones but Turkey wants the agenda expanded, risking undermining the talks before they begin.

The head of the diplomatic office of Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, Eleni Sourani, and the adviser of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Ibrahim Kalin, reportedly have an open line of communication, after Turkey pulled back its plans to send ships off Kastellorizo.

Sourani and Kalin had been close to signing a joint statement setting the framework of a dialogue after their meeting in Berlin with a representative from Merkel, the paper said, citing sources not identified.

But that initial agreement was held back after Turkey reportedly disagreed with Greece's demand that Turkey stop violations, including repeatedly sending F-16 fighter jets into Greek airspace as NATO looks the other way.

In Mitsotakis' meeting with rival party leaders to brief them,  the paper said it quickly became evident that despite his call for consensus there is disagreement on how to deal with an increasingly aggressive Turkey and an unchecked Erdogan, who converted the Aghia Sophia church in Constantinople into a mosque.

The major opposition and former ruling Radical Left SYRIZA unseated by New Democracy in July 7, 2019 snap elections and the center-left Movement for Change (KINAL) have said they will back the resumption of talks only on the condition that they will be limited to the issue of maritime zones, the paper also had said.

That comes after a Greek deal with France to buy two French Belharra frigates as part of a broader mutual defense cooperation fell through last month, the paper saying there were vagueness and that it wasn't only over money, but no other details given.