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Politics

Next Round of Greek-Turkish Exploratory Talks to Take Place in Athens

ATHENS — The next round of exploratory talks between Greece and Turkey will take place in Athens, diplomatic resources reported on Monday.

Talks concluded in Istanbul on Monday, as diplomats from the two countries met at Dolmabahce palace earlier in the day.

After a five-year layoff, Greek and Turkish officials on Jan. 25 wrapped up a first session of a 61st round of seemingly endless exploratory talks, this one focusing on disputes over the Aegean and East Mediterranean and just preliminary.

There won’t be negotiations, Greek officials said as the two sides sat  down in Constantinople, not in Athens, and with the European Union backing away from sanctions Greece wanted for Turkish plans to drill for oil and gas off Greek islands.

While both sides were professing to want diplomacy to stave off a conflict, Turkey has alternated between sweet talk and being belligerent and warned that if Greece extends its sea limits to 12 miles it would be a cause for war.

With so much at stake the first round of the renewed talks was expected to be gingerly, with no notes, no real discussions about the differences between them and seen to be more a courtesy sit down.

Turkey avoided the EU taking up sanctions talk at a December, 2019 when President Recep Tayyip Erdogan withdrew an energy research vessel and warship from the Greek island of Kastellorizo.

In an analysis, the news agency Reuters said the talks would be a kind of cooling off to ratchet down tension even as Turkey keeps bumping it back up again and that it could open the door for EU leaders to go to Turkey instead of having Erdogan go to them, likely giving him another advantage.

Turkey has fruitlessly been trying to join the bloc since 2005, the prospects worsened after Erdogan purged civil society, judiciary, education system and the military and jailed dozens of journalists after a failed 2016 coup attempt.

Turkey has also been drilling for oil and gas in Cypriot waters in defiance of soft EU sanctions that targeted only two executives of Turkey’s state-run petroleum company. 

Expressing guarded optimism, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell told Reuters he saw a "window of opportunity" but that Turkey needed to "abandon this line of confrontation" and seek dialogue, repeating himself.

Erdogan, who accused the bloc of "strategic blindness" towards Turkey, told EU ambassadors in Ankara this month he was ready to improve ties even as he told Greece he wouldn’t make any concessions.

Greek Prime Minister and New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis, who last year withdrew calls for sanctions only to ask for them – denied by the EU – said he wants more than lip service from Turkey.

A diplomat not named by the news service, speaking from the EU headquarters in Brussels, said, "I don't see any great reconciliation to move us off the trajectory we are on. It is going to take a significant gesture from Turkey,” more pessimistic.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu went to Brussels in a charm offensive that appeared to win over at least some bloc leaders and said it brought plans for talks about Cyprus in New York in the next two months.

Turkey also wanted to add to the agenda, including demands for talks about Greek taking troops off islands near Turkey’s coast but Greece said it would not consent to any additional discussions.

Mitsotakis told Parliament Greek officials won’t discuss issues it considered sovereign rights and would approach the talks with optimism but "zero naivety,” wary of Erdogan's shifting tactics.

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