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Greece and Turkey launch Mediterranean crisis talks after 5 years

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The first high-level talks aimed at reducing tensions between Turkey and Greece in five years took place behind closed doors on Monday.

The summit of senior officials came after a year that saw the two NATO members come to the verge of conflict in the eastern Mediterranean — a crisis that pushed the European Union toward imposing sanctions on Ankara.

The exploratory talks at Istanbul’s Dolmabahce Palace were the 61st round of meetings between the frequent rivals since discussions were launched in 2002.

READ MORE: ‘We have vital rights in the Aegean Sea’: Turkey reacts to Greece’s territorial waters extension.

Ibrahim Kalin, the spokesman for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, attended the meeting and stressed Turkey’s commitment.

“Under the strong leadership of our president, it is possible to solve all problems, including the Aegean, and we have the will for this,” he tweeted. “Regional peace and stability is in everyone’s interests.”

Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency cited diplomatic sources as saying steps to address recent developments were discussed at the four-hour meeting.

However, Athens was more reserved in its remarks.

“These are not negotiations and do not have a binding effect,” Greek government spokesman, Christos Tarantilis, said on Monday. “The aim is to pick up the thread from the point where contacts were interrupted in 2016 to see if there is a point of convergence in order to lead us to negotiations.”

READ MORE: Erdogan: Those who threaten Turkey with sanctions will be disappointed.

He added that future talks would be limited to the demarcation of economic zones and the continental shelf in the Aegean and east Mediterranean.

Turkey has previously called for other issues, such as air space and the demilitarization of Greece’s Aegean islands, to be included.

Representatives of Turkey and Greece attend a meeting as part of the bilateral talks on the maritime disputes in Istanbul, Turkey on January 25, 2021. Photo: Turkish Foreign Ministry/Handout via REUTERS.

Since the last round in March 2016, Turkey has encouraged thousands of migrants to cross the Greek border and sent gas exploration ships into waters claimed by Greece and Cyprus.

Confrontation in the seas around Cyprus and the Greek island of Crete last summer saw warships shadowing one another, leading to a collision between Turkish and Greek vessels on one occasion.

READ MORE: Turkey issues fresh NAVTEX warnings demanding demilitarisation of 6 Greek islands.

As well as addressing tensions between the frequent rivals, Ankara hopes the talks will smooth relations with the European Union and convince the new Biden administration in Washington of its reliability as an international partner.

Washington has welcomed the talks, saying it backed efforts to reduce tension in the Eastern Mediterranean. “The United States welcomes…the commitment of both governments to this process,” US State Department spokesperson, Ned Price, said on Twitter.

Source: AP News.

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