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While Turkey's Bashes, Greece Thinks Sea Dispute Talks Unaffected

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Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis addresses parliament on Wednesday during the plenary debate on the draft bill extending Greece's territorial waters to 12 nautical miles in the Ionian Sea. (Photo by Eurokinissi/ Yiorgos Kontarinis)

ATHENS - They’re alternating between talking diplomatically and throwing haymakers but Greece is optimistic talks with Turkey over rights to the Aegean and East Mediterranean will yield a resolution, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said.

He was speaking ahead of a parliamentary vote on a bill extending Greece’s western territorial waters to 12 nautical miles from six currently, five days before officials from the two countries will meet in Constantinople.

Technically, a 61st round of exploratory talks that have gone nowhere are picking up after a four-year pause with chilly relations blocking them, but this time Greece wants only the sea boundaries to be discussed while Turkey wants to add issues including demands that Greece take troops off islands near Turkey’s coast.

“We will attend with optimism, self-confidence,” Mitsotakis said, but there would be “zero naivety” from Athens about the talks, which were unofficial and non-binding.

“There will be no discussion on national sovereignty,” he added, said Reuters.

He said the discussions were expected to resume at the point where they were interrupted in 2016 - when there wasn’t tension over Turkey’s plans to drill for energy off Greek islands as now.

The talks were to resume last year but broke off after Turkey made a maritime deal with Libya dividing the waters between them -which no other country recognizes - and Greece countered with a similar agreement with Egypt, drawing Turkey’s ire.

Turkey is also upset about Greece’s plans to extend its territorial sea limits to 12 miles, which for now would be only in the Ionian Sea off Greece’s western coast after it negotiated with Albania and Italy, which have interests there.

The bill under vote does not affect waters off Greece’s southern and eastern coasts, where Turkey has warned that any such move by Athens would be a “casus belli,” or cause for war, the news agency said.

Greece said that under the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea it retains the right to exercise its rights in other parts of its territory but Turkey doesn’t recognize that agreement unless invoking in its favor at times.