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Sunday June 20th, 2021 3:25PM

Turkey invites rival Greece to resume talks on disputes

By The Associated Press
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ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkey on Monday invited Greece to resume talks designed to reduce tensions between the neighbors, following this summer's dispute over maritime borders and energy rights in the eastern Mediterranean.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu also extended an invitation to Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias, for a meeting to discuss their troubled relations.

The invitation comes as Turkey, which faces sanctions from the European Union, has vowed to improve ties with EU nations.

“Today ... we want to extend an open invitation to Greece” Cavusoglu said. “We invite Greece to start exploratory talks, with the first meeting being held in January.”

He said Turkey would host the talks at a date that would be mutually decided by Greek and Turkish officials.

The so-called exploratory talks would be the 61st round of a long-running process of negotiations between Greece and Turkey that aim to improve relations that are often testy between the two neighbors.

The countries are at odds over a series of issues, including territorial disputes in the Aegean Sea. The the two countries have come to the brink of war three times since the mid-1970s.

Tensions flared this summer, after Turkey sent a research vessel escorted by warships to prospect for energy resources in the eastern Mediterranean in an area Greece says is over its own continental shelf and where it claims exclusive economic rights.

In December, the EU gave the green light for the expansion of sanctions against Turkey over its exploration of gas reserves in waters claimed by EU members Greece and Cyprus.

Speaking after a meeting with his Portuguese counterpart Antonio Costa during a trip to Lisbon, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said he had been informed of Cavusoglu’s comments.

Mitsotakis said that while the invitation for talks hadn't yet come through the official procedure, “I retain as a positive element that Turkey has expressed the will for the process to start” and said it was time to set a specific date for the talks.

“Greece will come to the exploratory talks, once the date is finalized, also following the directions the European Council itself has given, which are none other than to essentially continue where we left off in March 2016, in other words to make progress, I hope, on the issue of determining the maritime boundaries in the eastern Mediterranean and the Aegean.”

Cavusoglu said Dendias had rejected an invitation by Albanian Minister Edi Rama to host a meeting between the Greek and Turkish foreign ministers in Tirana because of the coronavirus restrictions but expressed hope that a meeting can take place in the Albanian capital soon.

“I hope Greece does not turn down this opportunity,” Cavusoglu said.

__

Associated Press writer Elena Becatoros in Athens, Greece, contributed to this report.

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