Turkey, Greece need dialogue to settle Aegean, Mediterranean disputes: experts

NATO allies and neighbors Turkey and Greece need to engage in a constructive dialogue for a viable settlement to their long-standing disputes in the Aegean and Mediterranean seas that recently flared up again, experts said.

Tensions spiked last week when Turkey announced its plan to send a research vessel in contested areas south of the Greek islands of Rhodes, Karpathos and Kastellorizo for energy explorations.

The plan was criticized by the United States, France and other European countries, while the Turkish boat Oruc Reis has remained anchored off the southeast Turkish port of Antalya pending further decision.

Rejecting foreign criticism, Turkey has insisted that it is abiding by international law.

Turkey accuses Greece of trying to exclude it from energy exploitation in the East Mediterranean, arguing that Greek islands, some of which very close to the Turkish coast, should not be included in exclusive economic zones.

“The only method to settle conflicts between Greece and Turkey is dialogue. No matter how complex the disputes are, dialogue is paramount in avoiding confrontations between two neighbors,” Mustafa Nail Alkan, a professor of international relations from the Ankara Haci Bayram Veli University, told Xinhua.

The scholar gave the example of France and Germany, two European neighboring nations which fought many battles over centuries but managed to find a “marriage of convenience” after the Second World War and laid the foundations of what is now the European Union.

“If the two countries as ancient foes succeeded in finding a path to live together in peace, why can’t Turkey and Greece, which share a common culture and have all to gain from good neighborly relations, resolve their disagreements in peaceful ways?” Alkan noted, warning that an armed conflict would jeopardize regional geopolitics and both vulnerable economies.

In fact, Athens and Ankara have both expressed willingness to diffuse tensions after reported attempts by German Chancellor Angela Merkel to prevent a military confrontation between the two allies by contacting leaders of Turkey and Greece for a de-escalation of tensions, according to German reports.

Stelios Petsas, spokesman of the Greek government, said on Monday that Turkey was withdrawing navy vessels from the area, adding Greece remained ready to enter negotiations with Turkey “within the framework of international law and good neighborly relations.”

A day later, Turkish Presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said Ankara will hold off on surveying the seabed in the disputed area to allow for diplomacy.

Turkey is also seeking a discussion with Greece about issues surrounding the countries’ continental shelves, air space and offshore hydrocarbon exploration, Kalin said in an interview with CNNTurk news channel.

Turkey is ready to enter comprehensive negotiations with Greece “without preconditions,” he noted.

“Turkey’s decision to suspend its drilling activities is a good sign that it prioritizes diplomacy and dialogue before military means,” Tulin Daloglu, an independent analyst and columnist on Turkish foreign policy, told Xinhua.

Turkey and Greece came to the brink of a war in 1996 in a sovereignty dispute over uninhabited islets known as Kardak in Turkish and Imia in Greek. The confrontation was averted after a U.S. intervention.

The NATO allies launched in the aftermath of this crisis a series of diplomatic talks but didn’t obtain any tangible results.