NATO-led technical military talks between Turkey and Greece can help resolve the underlying problems between the two allies, the alliance’s top official said Monday.
Speaking at an online event about climate change, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg responded to a question on tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean between Turkey and Greece.
Stoltenberg said NATO was concerned about rising tensions between the two NATO members, adding that the alliance had taken initiatives “to bring together two highly valued allies, Greece and Turkey, to let them sit together and see how we can develop what we call military deconfliction mechanisms.”
“This is about how to make sure that ships and planes keep a necessary distance and behave in a responsible way so that we can prevent and avoid incidents or accidents. And there are always risks with that, when you have so many ships in the same place and around the same territory, as we have seen in the Eastern Mediterranean,” he said.
Warships of the two neighbors collided during the standoff in the region of energy resources, and Turkey has since recalled its seismic research vessel, Oruç Reis, to allow for diplomacy. Ankara and Athens have agreed to resume talks over their contested maritime claims.
Stoltenberg also said his recent talks with Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan led to the start of “technical military talks.”
“Hopefully, if we can find a solution, establish these mechanisms, then that can help to support the German-led efforts to facilitate talks on the underlying main problem,
“So, there is ongoing work here at NATO. Deconfliction is important in itself. It reduces risks and the likelihood of incidents and accidents. And hopefully, it can also support the efforts of Germany to address the underlying main problem,” he added.
The two Mediterranean countries recently agreed to hold exploratory talks. The talks will be the 61st of their kind, as the two countries started to hold exploratory talks on problems in the Eastern Mediterranean on March 12, 2002, with the aim of coming up with a fair, sustainable and inclusive solution.
Such talks continued regularly up until 2016. However, since that date, both due to political conjecture and Athen’s reluctance, there have not been any new rounds.
Turkey has demanded that the host of disagreements it has with Greece be handled as a whole. Those include territorial waters in the Eastern Mediterranean, the continental shelf, the demilitarization of the islands, the legal status of geographical formations, the width of national air space and search and rescue operations.
Turkey also demands that the topics of the continental shelf and exclusive economic zones (EEZ) should be approached with equitable principles, unlike Greece’s current expansionist approach.
US hopes for rapprochement
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Monday Washington hopes forthcoming Greek and Turkish talks to resolve maritime disputes in the Eastern Mediterranean will lead to better bilateral relations between the neighbors.
“We’ve said all along the way conflict can be resolved is not through shows of force, not through demonstrations of power, but through dialogue – through international systems, agreements, conversations, dialogue. That’s how these maritime disputes ought to be resolved,” Pompeo said during an interview with Greece’s Athens News Agency.
“We hope the exploratory talks not only get kicked off right, but it’s important that they’re resolved in a way that delivers outcomes that each of the two nations finds more than acceptable,” he added.
Addressing the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) Friday, Greek Premier Kyriakos Mitsotakis hailed the forthcoming talks with Ankara as “a step in the right direction.”