Greek foreign minister Dendias in Turkey as regional tensions simmer

Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias is meeting with top officials in Turkey on Thursday, including President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, under the shadow of disputes between the two countries over territories in the eastern Mediterranean and Aegean.

Greece and Turkey disagree on maritime boundaries and overlapping claims to hydrocarbon resources. Tensions escalated in August when Turkey sent its Oruç Reis research vessel escorted by warships into a disputed area between Cyprus and the Greek island of Crete.

Athens responded by sending naval and air units to push back the Oruç Reis and conducted military drills with Cyprus and France in the area. Initial diplomatic contacts to resolve the dispute began in January.

Greece and Turkey should talk honestly and openly about issues they do not agree on, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu told NTV news channel on Thursday ahead of Dendias’ meetings. Turkey is ready to talk about all outstanding problems, he said.

Erdoğan said on Wednesday that his government had taken a “soft” approach towards the maritime dispute. Greece has no rights to territorial claims to the area or the ships with which to explore for hydrocarbons, he said in a televised speech.

The two governments began initial diplomatic contacts after the European Union sided with Greece and imposed sanctions on Turkish energy officials at a summit in December. It lifted the measures last month. The exploratory talks first began in 2002 and were suspended in 2016.

“We do not need the EU or other countries in order to talk with Greece,” Çavuşoğlu said.

Turkey has said negotiations with Greece should be held on multiple issues, including the rights of ethnic Turks living in Greece and the demilitarisation of islands in the Aegean. The Greek government has said talks should focus on the demarcation of maritime borders.

Dendias is travelling to Ankara for the talks from Istanbul, where he met on Wednesday with the head of the Greek Orthodox Church and visited a private Greek school. Dendias will also sit down with Çavuşoğlu, who extended an invitation in March for the visit.

(This story was updated with foreign minister's comments in the third and sixth paragraphs.)