After a five-year hiatus, on January 25 Greece and Turkey will resume the exploratory talks they have been engaged in over the past two decades. This will be the 61st round of such talks.
The two countries are far from agreeing on the agenda of these talks. Greece insists the two parties should only examine the delimitation of territorial waters, the continental shelf and exclusive economic zones, as they have in the past. Turkey wants to expand the agenda to the demilitarization of the eastern Aegean islands, the so-called “gray zones” of sovereignty, and the Eastern Mediterranean, among other issues.
Greece rejects at least the first two demands outright as claims on its sovereign territory. Turkey is also disturbed by Greece’s signing maritime delimitation agreements with Italy and, especially, Egypt, although those were concluded as a response to Turkey’s universally panned accord with non-neighboring Libya.
The two countries came close to an agreement on territorial waters once, in 2011. But the then Socialist government of George Papandreou, already buffeted by the severe reaction to the first austerity package signed with Greece’s creditors in 2010, did not dare expend more political capital.
There is little faith in Turkey that this new round will bring in any concrete results, but officials agree that it is a step toward de-escalating the recent tension between the two neighbors.
There are also the opposition voices, seeking to outflank even Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s strident nationalism; Meral Aksener, leader of the secularist nationalist IYI party, blasted Erdogan for entering talks whose agenda is determined by Greece.
Last week, Erdogan invited Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis for talks in Ankara; Mitsotakis replied that, while he excluded a visit ahead of the restart of the talks, he was open to the invitation.