ATHENS – Facing the possibility of sanctions for plans to drill for energy off Greek islands, Turkey is playing up to the European Union while still blaming its neighbor for the troubles between them.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said relations with the European Union are in a “more positive place” as he kept up a barrage of complaints about Greece as Turkey keeps disputing waters in the Aegean and East Mediterranean.
In a joint press conference in Ankara with German Finance Minister Heiko Maas – Germany refused to back Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis’ call for penalties on Turkey – Cavusoglu said that the 61st round of exploratory talks with Greece would be the same as the previous 60.
That was seen as rejecting Greece’s insistence that the talks would be only about sea boundaries as Turkey said it would again send an energy research vessel and warships off the Greek island of Kastellorizo at some point.
“If Greece insists on not cooperating, then the responsibility of any tension between the two countries will be on Athens’ shoulders,” said Cavusoglu.
Maas, who has tried to walk the line in the feud, said the dividing issues are “complex but not unsolvable” but didn’t offer any ideas to fix them as he then admitted it’s a “difficult situation.”
“The announcement by Turkey and Greece that they will resume the exploratory talks, which had been interrupted since 2016, is an important first step,” Maas said, although Turkey wants other topics on the agenda, including a demand Greece remove troops off islands near Turkey’s coast.
“During Germany’s EU presidency over the previous six months, we made significant efforts for the resumption of direct talks between Turkey and Greece. The start of these talks now offers a real chance of permanent de-escalation in the Eastern Mediterranean,” said Haas.
The EU, after backing away from talks of sanctions in a December meeting, said they would be considered again in March unless Greece and Turkey settle their differences.
Cavusoglu insisted that Turkey is ready to start talks with Greece on January 25, but said Greece’s attitude is scuttling hopes of progress at the same time he and other Turkish officials have stepped up verbal attacks.
“Despite our offer of dialogue, Greece continues its attempt to provoke Turkey,” said Cavusoglu, pointing to Greece’s Archbishop Ieronymos, who told Open TV in an interview that “Islam is not a religion but a political party,” and Turkey prefers belligerence.
“They continually carry out military maneuvers or announce them with Navtexes and then they don’t carry them out,” said Cavusoglu, referring to navigational warnings reserving seas – which Turkey does repeatedly in Greek seas.