The tension generated by Turkey in the Eastern Mediterranean in recent months has subsided as Ankara is feeling pressure from the EU and the United States to deescalate and proceed to talks with Greece.
On Wednesday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan held separate talks with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg.
Von der Leyen said she had a “very useful exchange,” with Erdogan and welcomed the planned exploratory talks between the two countries.
For his part, Stoltenberg told the Turkish president that a dialogue between the two countries is important for the de-escalation of tensions.
Erdogan has eased up on his usually bellicose tones in recent days, ahead of the EU leaders summit on October 1-2 that is expected to focus on Turkey’s activities in the Eastern Mediterranean. Sanctions against Turkey are on the agenda, as the EU has repeatedly warned Ankara to stop stoking tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean.
The return to Turkey of the oil and gas research vessel Oruc Reis after spending several weeks going in and out of Greece’s territorial waters accompanied by Turkish Navy warships has been perceived by Greece as a sign of deescalation.
Additionally, the departure of the Turkish vessels from Greek territorial waters was a non-negotiable condition set by Athens in order for bilateral talks to proceed.
The two neighboring countries – and NATO allies – are now ready to start exploratory talks, a decision that was announced by both countries. The intervention of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who had talks with both Erdogan and Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, was crucial in the two sides agreeing to sit at the table.
The US Department of State welcomed the announcement of the resumption of exploratory talks between Greece and Turkey with a post on social media on Wednesday.
The tweet read that the “US welcomes reports that Greece-Turkey are ready for exploratory talks on maritime delimitation issues, as talks have potential to contribute to easing of regional tensions, and we appreciate the constructive role Germany has played in encouraging parties to return to negotiations.”
Eastern Mediterranean tensions and the American-Turkish Conference
Stephen Biegun, US Deputy Secretary of State, made remarks on Wednesday regarding the tensions generated by Turkey during the American-Turkish Conference. In his statements, the U.S. official commented:
“We also have expressed deep concern about rising tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean. Conflict between our NATO Allies Turkey and Greece only benefits common adversaries who seek to sow division and Transatlantic disunity. We urge Turkey to cease provocative maritime operations and steps that are raising tensions in the region.
“In recent days, we welcomed Ankara’s de-escalatory actions, including the return of Turkish ships from areas subject to competing claims. We hope to see continued bilateral talks between Turkey and Greece to further reduce tensions, and we encourage both countries to continue working through NATO toward a technical agreement on de-confliction measures. Countries in the region must resolve their disagreements diplomatically and peacefully.
“More broadly on maritime issues, we remain deeply concerned by Turkey’s drilling activity in waters off Cyprus. Such activity also continues to raise tensions unacceptably. While the United States does not take a position on how other countries delimit their maritime boundaries, this should be done through peaceful dialogue, and not through provocative, unilateral action.”