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Politics

Greek, Turkish Talks Aim to Keep Detente Going During Some Grumbling

ATHENS – With a rapprochement holding and Turkish provocations ceasing, teams from Turkey and Greece were hoping to keep the calm going as they sat down in the Greek capital on April 22.

But Turkey is unhappy over Greece’s plans to create marine nature reserve parks in the Ionian Sea and especially the Aegean where Turkey’s coast is so close to some Greek islands you can hear a cock crow.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has switched from belligerence to diplomacy, had said he coveted return of some Aegean islands ceded away under the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne he doesn’t recognize.

He also had demanded that Greece remove troops from some islands near Turkey’s coast – citing the treaty’s provisions he invoked to his advantage – and had said it would be a cause for war if Greece doubled its maritime boundaries to 12 miles.

The meeting was to discuss so-called Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) that hadn’t brought any confidence in years although they resumed in November, 2023 in the Turkish capital Ankara with little progress.

The talks though are over less contentious issues and not meant to deal with any of the more serious differences and don’t include Cyprus where Turkish-Cypriots have occupied the northern third since unlawful 1974 Turkish invasions.

The meeting comes ahead of planned talks in Ankara on May 13 between Erdogan and Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, who had ignored Erdogan’s tirades and kept trying to move his counterpart toward talking.

Erdogan came to Athens in December 2023 and the two sides signed a number of trade, energy and education deals and Turkish tourists allowed visas to visit Greek islands near their coast.

But Mitsotakis’ announcement last week that Greece will create two marine parks for the protection of sea mammals and birds irked Turkey. Omer Celik, spokesman for Erdogan’s ruling party, said Turkey considers the parks a step backward.

He said it was “a step that sabotages the normalization process” in relations, and said Turkey would “in no way allow actions toward the declaration of marine parks in the Aegean Sea.”

Mitsotakis, speaking after a meeting of European leaders in Brussels, expressed surprise at what he described as “Turkey’s totally unjustified reaction to an initiative which at the end of the day is of an environmental nature.”

He said improvement in relations between Greece and Turkey was “undeniable and measurable,” but that this did not mean Turkey had changed its positions on the delineation of maritime zones in the Aegean and the eastern Mediterranean.

“These positions remain positions which are deeply problematic for our country,” Mitsotakis said. “But this does not prevent us from being able to talk, to create a general good climate and invest more in a positive agenda and less in the issues which divide us and over which we clearly disagree.”

(Material from the Associated Press was used in this report)

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