Greece says onus on Turkey to ease tensions

ATHENS (Reuters) – Greece welcomes moves by Turkey to de-escalate recent tensions in the east Mediterranean, its prime minister said on Tuesday, but Ankara needs to show a firmer commitment to improving relations.

FILE PHOTO: Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis speaks to the media as he arrives for the second face-to-face European Union summit since the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Brussels, Belgium October 1, 2020. Francisco Seco/Pool via REUTERS

Relations between the two NATO allies and neighbours are fraught with disagreements ranging from maritime boundaries to the ethnically divided island of Cyprus. Tensions came to a head this summer when each made overlapping claim to swathes of the east Mediterranean, and Turkey dispatched a survey vessel to map out possible oil and gas drilling prospects, infuriating Greece.

Turkey pulled out the vessel in mid-September.

“Our country welcomes as positive a first step made by Turkey towards de-escalating the recent tensions,” Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said after talks in Athens with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg.

“It now remains to be seen if it is a sincere move or a short-lived manoeuvre,” Mitsotakis said, adding that Greece was committed to dialogue and diplomacy to resolve any disputes.

Last week Stoltenberg announced the creation of a mechanism to avoid accidental clashes in the eastern Mediterranean as part of broader efforts to defuse tensions between Ankara and Athens.

The ‘de-confliction’ includes setting up a hotline to avoid accidents in the sea and air. There was a light collision between Turkish and Greek frigates in August.

“It is up to Turkey to close the path of crisis and open a path of resolution. We are willing to meet it on that second path and I’m optimistic that is the route we will take, to the benefit of our two peoples,” Mitsotakis said.

Stoltenberg said he believed the mechanism would help also to “create space” for diplomatic efforts.

“It is my firm hope that the underlying disputes between two allies can now be addressed purely though negotiations in the spirit of allied solidarity and international law,” he said.

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