Eastern Mediterranean

NATO-led talks continue amid hopes for Turkey and Greece to resolve underlying problems

Daily Sabah – NATO-led technical talks between Turkish and Greek military delegations continued at the sixth meeting Tuesday afternoon at NATO headquarters in Brussels to discuss the Eastern Mediterranean, according to the Turkish Defense Ministry.

Coming after months of disputes over hydrocarbon exploration activities and maritime zones in the region, expectations from the series of meeting are high since these will play a role in the relations of both countries and the stability of the region.

The talks can help resolve the underlying problems between the two allies, the alliance’s top official said Monday. Speaking at an online event about climate change, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg responded to a question on tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean between Turkey and Greece.

Stoltenberg said NATO was concerned about the rising tensions between the two NATO members, adding that the alliance had taken initiatives “to bring together two highly valued allies, Greece and Turkey, to let them sit together and see how we can develop what we call military deconfliction mechanisms.”

“This is about how to make sure that ships and planes keep a necessary distance and behave responsibly so that we can prevent and avoid incidents or accidents. And there are always risks with that, when you have so many ships in the same place and around the same territory, as we have seen in the Eastern Mediterranean,” he said.

Warships belonging to the two neighbors collided on Aug. 12 during the standoff in the energy-rich region, and Turkey has since recalled its seismic research vessel, Oruç Reis, to allow for diplomacy. Ankara and Athens have agreed to resume talks over their contested maritime claims.

Stoltenberg also said his recent talks with Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan led to the start of “technical military talks.”

“Hopefully, if we can find a solution, establish these mechanisms, then that can help to support the German-led efforts to facilitate talks on the underlying main problem,” Stoltenberg said.

“So, there is ongoing work here at NATO. Deconfliction is important in itself. It reduces risks and the likelihood of incidents and accidents. And hopefully, it can also support the efforts of Germany to address the underlying main problem,” he added.

The two Mediterranean countries recently agreed to hold exploratory talks. The talks will be the 61st of their kind, to try to come up with fair, sustainable and inclusive solutions to problems in the Eastern Mediterranean, since March 12, 2002.

Such talks continued regularly up until 2016. However, since that date, both due to political conjecture and Athens’ reluctance, there have not been any new rounds.

Turkey has demanded that the host of disagreements it has with Greece be handled as a whole. Those include territorial waters in the Eastern Mediterranean, the continental shelf, the demilitarization of the islands, the legal status of geographical formations, the width of national airspace and search and rescue operations.

Turkey also demands that the topics of the continental shelf and exclusive economic zones (EEZ) should be approached with equitable principles, unlike Greece’s current expansionist approach.

Addressing the U.N. General Assembly (UNGA) Friday, Greek Premier Kyriakos Mitsotakis hailed the forthcoming talks with Ankara as “a step in the right direction.”

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