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'They are lying': Turkey blasts Greece for rejecting Nato talks on defusing tensions

Turkey's foreign minister accuses Athens of not keeping promise to begin technical talks brokered by alliance
A ship from Greece's navy patrols last month off the tiny Greek island of Kastellorizo, which lies less than 2km from the Turkish mainland (AFP)
By Ragip Soylu in Istanbul

Turkey’s chief diplomat has accused Greece of not abiding by its promise to begin technical talks at the military level brokered by Nato, and of misleading the alliance's Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg over its intentions.

Stoltenberg said late on Thursday that Turkey and Greece had agreed to begin the talks to prevent accidents and clashes in the Eastern Mediterranean amid growing tensions over maritime rights in the region.

Turkey's foreign ministry quickly responded to the statement and added that it expected Greece to follow through.

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However, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis on Friday morning said in televised remarks that in order for talks to begin, Turkey must stop its "threats".

"I answer it with six clear words: The threats stop, the discussions begin," he said.

Mitsotakis added that Greece can and wants to "discuss the definition of maritime zones in the Aegean, in the Eastern Mediterranean based on international law but without being blackmailed and with reason".

Following Mitsotakis's remarks, Turkish Minister of Foreign Affairs Mevlut Cavusoglu said: "Once again Greece showed that it isn't on the side of dialogue."

Cavusoglu also said Greek officials had lied to Stoltenberg about their intention to join the talks, which would aim to deconflict Turkish and Greek military operations in the region rather than trying to find the root cause of maritime disagreements. 

"They first said they approved this initiative and then refused it. They lie about it," he added.

Domestic concerns

CNN Turk reported on Friday that Greek officials had said they supported the Nato talks but that they had stopped short of filing diplomatic notes to make it official and had therefore never given their final approval.

The report said the Greek government backtracked from its position due to domestic political considerations.

In a press conference later on Friday, Stoltenberg reiterated that the technical talks had begun but that both sides could not reach an agreement.

Asked about the Greek refusal to join the talks, he said that both sides had already met for negotiations. 

Secret signing

Turkish officials say this is the second time Greece has violated the goodwill of Turkey by sabotaging talks.

Last month, Ankara agreed to suspend its drilling work in the west of Cyprus for a month in order to allow time for German-mediated diplomatic negotiations.

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"We had made preparations to issue a joint statement of understanding with Greece at the time," Cavusoglu said.

"However, less than a day from our scheduled release of the text, they secretly signed a maritime delimitation deal with Egypt. This step surprised everyone, including Germany and the EU."

Turkey and Greece have laid claims to areas in the eastern Mediterranean where experts have said there are vast, untapped hydrocarbon resources.

Both countries have vehemently disagreed over each other's claims to the area, based on conflicting views as to who controls the continental shelves in the area's waters.

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