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Greek, Turkish foreign ministers stand their ground

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Greek and Turkish foreign ministers Nikos Dendias and Mevlut Cavusoglu hailed the relaunch of exploratory talks between Athens and Ankara and called for a de-escalation of tension, but both stood their ground on key issues dividing the two sides in an unusually frank press conference following their meeting in Ankara on Thursday.

“There is significant scope for an improvement in bilateral ties,” Dendias said. “Greece and Turkey are destined to live together in a region with many complex problems,” he said, stressing that progress cannot be achieved unless there is a “de-escalation of incendiary actions and comments.” 

“I know we have a long road ahead, but I hope that today we can take a step forward,” Dendias said, inviting Cavusoglu to Athens and pointing to the possibility of a meeting between Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

However, Dendias also lashed out at “constant” Turkish violations of Greek airspace and the Law of Sea, warning Ankara that its actions in the Aegean and the Eastern Mediterranean are undermining its aspirations to European Union membership. “If this is what Turkey wants – and I certainly hope that it does – then it must start respecting the Law of the Sea,” Dendias said, going on to underscore the threat of sanctions.

Cavusoglu was equally frank in his comments, saying that “differences remain” between the two sides over the Aegean and energy rights in the Eastern Mediterranean and defending Turkey’s seismic surveys as “entirely legal.”

He also dismissed Dendias’ comments on possible EU sanctions as “unacceptable.” “You did not expect me to act as if nothing is going on the Aegean and the East Mediterranean,” Dendias said in response to the admonition. 

The Turkish foreign minister also reiterated calls for the demilitarization of several Greek islands in the Aegean, saying in response to comments by Dendias about violations of the Treaty of Lausanne that “you only bring up what suits you.”

“If you heavily accuse my country and people before the press, I have to be in a position to respond to that,” Cavusoglu replied. “If you want to continue our tensions, we can. If we go into mutual recriminations here, we have a lot to tell each other.”

Dendias met earlier with Erdogan, who proposed a summit on the East Mediterranean.