Exploratory contacts between Greece and Turkey are set to resume in Istanbul, with Ankara trying to gain an upper hand over the agenda and Athens appearing to have low expectations citing disagreement on both sides on what to discuss.
The first meeting will take place at Istanbul’s Swissotel on Monday, after some 60 rounds since 2002 between the two NATO rivals, with the last of the exploratory talks taking place in Athens in March 2016.
Ankara made the official invitation last year, with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu saying “Greece has no excuse right now," referring to his country’s position that Athens did not seem to be in favour of talks.
But the Greek foreign ministry responded positively to the invitation on Turkish soil, with spokesman Alexandros Papaioannou clarifying Athens’ readiness to talk.
Ankara and Athens are at odds over the extent of their continental shelves in the Mediterranean, offshore energy rights, air space, and the status of some islands
"Greece has expressed its intention to respond to any such invitation from the Turkish side, in accordance with international law, on the issue of demarcation of an EEZ and the continental shelf," Papaioannou said in a statement.
Ankara and Athens are at odds over the extent of their continental shelves in the Mediterranean, offshore energy rights, air space, and the status of some islands.
Greece says it only wishes to discuss the demarcation of maritime zones, while Turkey wants a whole range of issues on the table, including limits of continental shelves, energy rights, air space, and the demilitarization of Greek islands and “gray zones” in the Aegean.
According to Kathimerini Greece, Athens has particularly low expectations of a substantial outcome, citing vast differences in the agenda set by both sides.
The talks begin amid pressure for de-escalation from the European Union and NATO, as the two neighbours have been taking jabs at each other over a long period.
Greek MPs last week approved legislation to extend the country’s territorial waters along its western coastline from six to 12 nautical miles, with Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis telling parliament in Athens that the legislation was a “clear message.”
“It’s a clear message to those who are trying to deprive our country of this right,” Mitsotakis said.
But Turkey argues its sea routes would be severely affected if Greece were to extend its territorial waters eastward from 6 to the maximum of 12 allowed internationally.
"No way Turkey will consent to any initiative trying to lock the country to its shores," Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said.
Turkey’s parliament back in 1995 said Greece’s extension of territorial waters eastward would be a “casus belli.”
Greece and Turkey have overlapping claims in the Aegean and eastern Mediterranean.
The new round of talks begins as an informal five-party meeting on Cyprus is set to take place next month or in March, where disagreements on the agenda also exist.