NATO has persuaded feuding members Greece and Turkey to hold talks aimed at finding a peaceful solution to their contested exploration efforts in the East Mediterranean.
“Following my discussions with Greek and Turkish leaders, the two allies have agreed to enter into technical talks at NATO to establish mechanisms for military deconfliction to reduce the risk of incidents and accidents in the Eastern Mediterranean,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said.
'Ready for unconditional dialogue'
Turkey's Foreign Ministry welcomed NATO’s initiative and expects Greece to do the same.
“We want to reiterate that our country is ready for unconditional dialogue to find lasting and just solutions with Greece on all problems between us in the framework of international law,” the Turkish Foreign Ministry said.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has spoken to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan as part of a wider diplomatic push to ease rising tensions between the two neighbours.
Tensions have been on the boil in the past month as Greece and Turkey have conducted military exercises in the Mediterranean to support rival claims to potential hydrocarbon resources in the area.
Tensions off Cyprus
The discovery of significant gas reserves off the divided island of Cyprus a decade ago has exacerbated tensions between the two NATO allies that have long been in dispute over maritime borders in the East Mediterranean.
Turkey disputes Greece’s claim to extensive exclusive rights, arguing that numerous Greek islands in the area should not be included in calculating sea boundaries between the countries.
The Turkish Navy last week issued an advisory, saying the survey vessel Oruc Reis will continue shooting seismic until 12 September, provoking an angry response from Greece.
Turkey’s widening exploration efforts in disputed waters followed the endorsement of a controversial maritime border pact between Greece and Egypt.
The Oroc Reis, escorted by two naval frigates, had previously been tasked with carrying out seismic work until 1 September.
'Greece won't be blackmailed'
The Greek Foreign Ministry called the advisory illegal. “Turkey continues to ignore calls for dialogue and to escalate its provocations,” the ministry said. “Greece won’t be blackmailed.”
It added that Greece will continue to seek maritime deals with its Mediterranean neighbours, based on the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
The European Union, of which Greece is a member, has called for dialogue while demanding that Turkey refrain from further stoking regional tensions by engaging in controversial exploration efforts.
There are increasing fears of an accidental conflict as both sides flex their military muscle in contested waters.
A Greek frigate on 12 August accidentally collided with a Turkish warship, though the two sides showed restraint.