(Bloomberg) -- Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said his country is ready to start a new round of talks with Turkey after its neighbor decided to remove a survey ship, called Oruc Reis, from contested waters in the eastern Mediterranean.
“The return of Oruc Reis is a positive first step,” Mitsotakis said Sunday at a news conference from the northern city of Thessaloniki. “The point is to have continuity,” and since there is a de-escalation from Turkey, Greece is always ready to sit at the table of exploratory talks to discuss the demarcation of maritime zones, he said.
Tensions flared in August after Turkey resumed gas exploration in an area where its claims are contested by Cyprus, and began naval exercises and energy surveys in waters where Turkey and Greece both assert exclusive economic rights. Turkey and Greece, both NATO members, have since deployed their navies to the area, and France has started expanding its military presence there in reaction to Turkey’s steps.
“In line with the plan, there may be forward and backward movements,” the state-run Anadolu Agency cited Turkey’s Defense Minister Hulusi Akar as saying in regard to the Oruc Reis’s activities. “There’s no such thing as giving up our rights there.”
Greece says islands must be taken into account in delineating a country’s continental shelf, in line with the United Nations Law of the Sea, which Turkey hasn’t signed. Turkey argues that a country’s continental shelf should be measured from its mainland, and that the area south of the Greek island of Kastellorizo — just a few kilometers off Turkey’s southern coast — therefore falls within its exclusive zone.
U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo expressed his Saturday concern about the situation Saturday on a visit to Cyprus.
“We remain deeply concerned about Turkey’s ongoing operations searching for natural resources in areas over which Greece and Cyprus assert jurisdiction in the Eastern Mediterranean,” Pompeo said.
The Greek premier also said that out of the 18 French Rafale fighters that Greece will buy in order to replace the older Mirage, six will be new and 12 lightly second-hand.
“We expect that the first fighters will come to Greece in mid-2021 and the acquisition to be completed in early 2022 the latest,” Mitsotakis said.
How quickly the two countries can get back to exploratory talks depends on the situation, according to Mitsotakis, adding that Europe’s list of sanctions against Turkey is and will be on the table in case things get worst.
“There have been positive steps in the past and then there have been negative ones. Let ‘s wait for a while to see that this first step is honest and lasting,” he said.
(Updates with comments from Turkey’s defense minister, Greek prime minister from fourth paragraph.)
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