If Talks with Greece Held, Turkey Wants to Set Agenda

ANKARA — With uncertainty whether talks will be held Jan. 25 in Constantinople over competing claims to the Aegean and East Mediterranean, Turkey reportedly wants to load the table with other issues, including pushing its demand for Greece to take troops off islands near Turkey’s coast.

Turkey’s state news agency Anadolu said President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, apparently trying to take control of the agenda, also wants discussion on search-and-rescue areas in the seas.

There have been contradictory reports on whether the talks would be held but Kathimerini said during meetings with European Union ambassadors in Ankara that Erdogan and Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu selcomed talks but then blamed Greece for tension although Turkey has plans to drill for energy off Greek islands.

“Greece in recent years is increasing airspace violations, as well as increasing its illegal activities on islands with a demilitarized regime. We call on Greece to stop its activities that increase the tension,” Erdogan said in a speech addressing the ambassadors, the paper said.

He argued while exploratory talks on hold for four years could bring a thaw in icy relations if resumed that his tough stance has  “showed our country’s determination to defend our rights.”

Stretching his reach, he also reportedly said Turkey and Turkish-Cypriots want expanded rights on the island where Turkey has occupied the northern third since an unlawful 1974 invasion and where it’s drilling for oil and gas offshore.

Erdogan also was to have said that unless he gets his way that he will again send an energy research vessel and warships off the Greek island of Kastellorizo after earlier forays there brought the Greek Navy out and fears of a conflict.

Asked about the demilitarization of Greek islands, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said, “No Greek government has ever discussed them in the past; it will not discuss them either (now.)”

He had already rejected talking with Turkey about anything other than the duel over the rights to the seas, with Turkey also planning to drill off Crete under a maritime deal with Libya dividing the seas between them, unrecognized in the world.

“There should be no activity inside the Greek Exclusive Economic Zone and the delimitation of maritime zones in the Aegean and Eastern Mediterranean is the sole subject of discussion,” he said. “It is better to talk within a specific context than not to talk at all,” he added.

After it was unclear whether the talks would proceed, the US State Department welcomed them and stated that it could ease regional tension although Erdogan has used a bait-and-switch policy to keep his adversaries off guard.


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