Turkey and Greece resume talks on maritime disputes after five years - sources

The neighbouring countries, both members of NATO, are at odds over the extent of their continental shelves in the Mediterranean


ANKARA/ATHENS- Turkey and Greece resumed bilateral talks on Monday aimed at addressing long-standing maritime disputes, diplomatic sources said, ending a five-year hiatus after months of tensions in the eastern Mediterranean.

The neighbouring countries, both members of NATO, are at odds over the extent of their continental shelves in the Mediterranean, energy rights in the region, air space and the status of some islands in the Aegean Sea. They made little progress in 60 rounds of talks from 2002 to 2016.

Plans for resuming talks foundered last year over Turkey's deployment of a seismic survey vessel in contested waters and disagreements over which topics to cover. The vessel was withdrawn to Turkish shores last year.

Ankara and Athens agreed this month to resume the talks in Istanbul, in a test of Turkey's hopes of improving its relations with the European Union, which has supported EU-member Greece and threatened sanctions on Turkey.

The exploratory talks are aimed at reaching common ground on disputed issues to allow for formal negotiations. However, despite agreeing to resume talks, Ankara and Athens still appeared to disagree over the topics to be covered in the run-up to Monday's meeting.

Athens said on Saturday it would discuss only the demarcation of exclusive economic zones and the continental shelf in the eastern Mediterranean, and not issues of "national sovereignty". 

Ankara has said it wants the talks to cover the same topics as in the first 60 rounds, including the demilitarisation of islands in the Aegean and disagreements over air space.

Greek government spokesman Christos Tarantilis told reporters on Monday Greece was "attending the talks in good faith and expects Turkey to act similarly", reiterating the Greek position that the talks are unofficial and aimed at reaching common ground on maritime zones only.

Officials did not disclose the agenda of the talks on Monday. Talks began at 0800 GMT on Monday and concluded around 1145 GMT, sources said.

Despite the technical disagreements, both sides voiced guarded optimism, though they were still trading barbs in the days leading up to Monday's meetings.

Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said last week Greece would approach the talks with optimism but "zero naivety", while Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said he hoped the resumption of talks would herald a new era. 

Analysts have said an immediate breakthrough is unlikely given decades-old policy differences, but that resuming dialogue is an important first step after EU pressure on Ankara.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu held talks in Brussels last week to discuss possible future steps to maintain what he called the "positive atmosphere" between Ankara and the EU. In December, the bloc postponed the question of sanctions on Turkey until March. 

(Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu in Ankara, Renee Maltezou and James Mackenzie in Athens; Editing by Daren Butler and Timothy Heritage) ((tuvan.gumrukcu@tr.com; +90 312 292 7021; @tuvangumrukcu; Reuters Messaging: tuvan.gumrukcu.thomsonreuters.com@reuters.net))

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