The foreign ministers of Greece and Turkey agreed on Tuesday to revive high-level contacts between their countries and seek “new approaches” to problems as part of efforts to improve ties between the two NATO allies who are at loggerheads over a string of decades-old disputes.
Discussions between Greece’s Giorgos Gerapetritis and Turkey’s Hakan Fidan were held in a more friendly climate triggered by Greece sending assistance to Turkey following a devastating earthquake earlier this year, and Turkey offering condolences after a deadly train accident in Greece.
“We have entered a new and positive period in our relations with Greece,” Fidan told journalists at the end of their talks. “We reiterated our belief that our problems will be resolved through a constructive dialogue between the two neighbors and allies.”
The meeting came as Ankara, in the throes of an economic downturn, is seeking a reset of its often-troubled relations with Western nations. It follows a rare meeting between President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis on the sidelines of a NATO summit in Vilnius in July.
According to a “roadmap” unveiled by the two ministers, Mitsotakis and Erdogan would meet again on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York on Sept. 18, followed by a meeting of high-level officials in October. The sides would also hold talks on a series of confidence-building measures and revive a stalled high-level cooperation council meeting.
Greece and Turkey are at odds over territorial claims in the Aegean Sea, energy exploration rights in the eastern Mediterranean and ethnically split Cyprus, among other issues.
Tensions flared in 2020 over exploratory drilling rights in areas of the Mediterranean Sea — where Greece and Cyprus claim exclusive economic zones — leading to a naval standoff.
“We evaluated our problems concerning the Aegean and the eastern Mediterranean in a comprehensive manner,” Fidan said. “We agreed on bringing new approaches to the solution of the problems.”
Gerapetritis said: “We agreed to continue with the positive agenda.”
Tuesday’s cordial atmosphere was a contrast to a meeting two years ago when the previous Greek and Turkish foreign ministers traded accusations during a joint news conference in Ankara.
In recent years, Turkey has accused Greece of deploying troops on Aegean islands close to the Turkish coast in violation of treaties. Greece says it needs to defend the islands against a potential attack from Turkey, noting Turkey has a sizeable military force on the western Turkish coast. Turkish officials said continued militarization of the islands could lead to Turkey questioning their ownership while Erdogan went as far as to threaten to send missiles to Athens.
Last year, Erdogan had pledged never to talk to Mitsotakis, furious at the Greek leader, who during a visit to the United States, called on Washington not to sell F-16 fighter jets to Turkey.