ATHENS – With Greece and Turkey set to talk – in Ankara, not Athens – over boundaries in the Aegean and East Mediterranean, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said he'd go so far as to sit down with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, but only if provocations stop.
The two sides agreed to pick up so-called Confidence Building Measures (CBM's) that have resulted in no confidence after ending in 2016, relations rapidly worsening after Turkey sent an energy research vessel and warships near the Greek island of Kastellorizo before Erdogan pulled them back in favor of talks.
Turkey, under a maritime deal with Libya no other country recognizes, claimed waters around Greek islands where it plans to drill, including Crete, as it has been doing off Cyprus, unimpeded by soft European Union sanctions.
Speaking to the French newspaper Le Figaro – France is aligned with Greece – Mitsotakis said he would consider meeting Erdogan formally when exploratory talks resume at some point, but not as long as the Turkish leader keeps up his belligerent talk about going ahead with drilling no matter the talks outcome.
Let me clarify that the subject of these talks, as in previous rounds, remains unchanged: It is the delimitation of maritime zones. It's the only difference we have with Turkey,” he was quoted as sayingr.
In the meantime, he said, meetings could take place at the level of foreign ministers and may lead to he and Erdogan meeting face-to-face officially although they have met informally on the sidelines of EU meetings.
“I reiterate that we could only consider these options if Turkey stops the provocations,” he added. Mitsotakis though pulled back his demand for EU sanctions on Turkey after Erdogan pulled out his ships.
Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades also withdrew his demand for penalties for now, which led Turkey to have an energy hunt vessel in Cypriot waters leave but another is still drilling in defiance of the EU.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose country is home to 2.774 million people of Turkish heritage, refused to back Mitsotakis' call for sanctions and mediated the breakthrough for negotiations.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, speaking after meeting Greece's foreign chief Nikos Dendias, told Turkish state media after the Global Security Forum in Slovakia that no date has been set for the talks, although the EU set a deadline for the end of a year for a resolution.
While offering diplomacy, Turkey kept up the provocations that Mitsotakis said he wanted ended. Turkey issued two navigational telexes reserving areas in the central and southeastern Aegean for exercises using live fire.
It was an area between the islands of Skyros, Praron, Evia and Chios from Oct. 26-28, as well as an area between Rhodes and Kastellorizo, in international and Turkish waters but near Greek islands that Erdogan wants returned to Turkey.
That came after Cavusoglu again disputed Greece's claims for waters around Kastellorizo, which is within sight of Turkey's coast. He said the island can't physically have a Continental Shelf and Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of 40,000-square kilometers (154,444 square miles) around it.
Erdogan has Merkel that the EU's decision not to impose sanctions, which came after a meeting with Turkish officials, wasn't good enough for him, saying that the bloc had “succumbed to blackmail” from Greece and Cyprus, which said if talks fail they want sanctions.