Turkey, Greece Disagree Over Agenda of Exploratory Talks

Turkey and Greece are struggling to agree on an agenda for talks next week meant to defuse years of conflict over sovereignty and energy rights, casting a pall on the potential for success.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu accused Athens of trying to limit the scope of the talks and undermine the process for a thaw. While Ankara wants to discuss a range of outstanding issues between the Mediterranean rivals, Athens has repeatedly said it wants to stick to one subject: maritime boundaries, with its implication for offshore energy resources.

“It is not right to say that we are holding exploratory talks by narrowing the subjects to one issue,” Cavusoglu said at a joint news conference with German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, who had traveled to Ankara to encourage the talks.

Inability to reach agreement on the agenda threatens to escalate frictions that brought Greece and Turkey to a naval standoff last year. The disputes have roped in the European Union, which has sanctioned Turkish individuals over their government’s exploration for natural gas in the contested waters of the energy-rich eastern Mediterranean.

The talks agreed upon last week are to take place on Jan. 25, for the first time since 2016.

Any attempt to expand their agenda to other issues, such as the status of the country’s Muslim minority, the demilitarization of islands, or Greece’s air space, could be a deal-breaker for Athens, as Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis would face an internal backlash from opening up such matters.

The talks are “meant to examine whether there is any convergence so that we can enter into negotiations on the one and only issue that concerns us -- and that is the delimitation of the exclusive economic zone and the continental shelf in the Aegean and eastern Mediterranean on the basis of international law,” Greek government spokesman Christos Tarantilis said at a briefing.

If common ground is found, “then we can consider other meetings later,” he said, noting that Greece currently expects the exploratory talks to begin.

Turkey recently ordered one of its vessels to suspend its gas exploration near Greek islands after the EU threatened to expand its Turkey sanctions list.

“We don’t fear EU sanctions,” Cavusoglu said. “But we want to continue our relations with a positive agenda, we believe that this process will continue with mutual positive steps.”

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