Turkey delays seismic work in disputed waters to defuse Greek tensions

By Firat Kozok on 7/28/2020

ISTANBUL (Bloomberg) - Turkey will hold off on surveying the seabed in an area of the eastern Mediterranean disputed by Greece to give time for diplomacy, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s spokesman said.

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

Kalin said Turkey is ready to enter comprehensive negotiations with Greece “without preconditions.”

The presidential spokesman’s remarks underscore Ankara’s boldest attempt to diffuse tensions since the recent flare-up over its decision to send a seismic research vessel, the Oruc Reis, to waters disputed by the two NATO members. Cyprus, which lies at the heart of the conflict in the Mediterranean, should also be part of any negotiations, Kalin said.

The statement is a “positive action,” Greek Government Spokesman Stelios Petsas said in an interview with Greece’s Skai TV. The re-launching of exploratory talks on the delimitation of maritime zones, that were interrupted in 2016, can move forward if the de-escalation continues, he said.

Athens and Ankara are already engaged in bilateral discussions since German Chancellor Angela Merkel intervened last week, calling on leaders on both sides to diffuse the conflict, according to Erdogan’s spokesman.

The latest flare-up in tensions concerns an area between the Turkish coastal city of Antalya and the Greek island of Kastellorizo, known as Meis in Turkey.

Ankara argues that a country’s continental shelf should be measured from its mainland, and that the area south of the Greek island -- just a few kilometers off Turkey’s coast — therefore falls within its exclusive zone.

Greece says that islands must also be taken into account in delineating a country’s continental shelf, in line with the United Nations Law of the Sea, giving it the sole right to the area regardless of the island’s proximity to Turkey. Turkey hasn’t signed up to that law.

“The area where the Oruc Reis will survey is 180 kilometers away from the island of Meis,” Kalin said. “Even so, the president said let’s wait for some time as these negotiations will continue.”

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