Turkey's Foreign Ministry confirms that the 61st round of Exploratory Talks between Turkey and Greece will take place in Istanbul.

Ankara and Athens are at odds over the extent of their continental shelves in the Mediterranean, offshore energy rights, air space, and the status of some islands.
Ankara and Athens are at odds over the extent of their continental shelves in the Mediterranean, offshore energy rights, air space, and the status of some islands. (AA)

Exploratory talks between Turkey and Greece will restart in Istanbul two weeks from today, Turkey has announced.

"The 61st round of the Exploratory Talks will take place in Istanbul on 25 January 2021," the Turkish Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Monday.

Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said earlier on Monday that Turkey was inviting Greece to attend new talks hosted on Turkish soil.

The 60th round of talks, the last of the exploratory talks initiated between the two countries in 2002, took place in Athens in March 2016.

Afterward, bilateral negotiations continued in the form of political consultations but did not return to an exploratory framework.

The issue of energy rights and maritime boundaries will be high on the agenda.

Immediate willingness

Athens immediately showed a willingness for talks, saying it is ready to discuss Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and the continental shelf. 

"As Turkey, we want to make an official invitation. As of today, we urge Greece to start exploratory talks, with the first meeting to be held within the month of January," Cavusoglu said on Monday.

Cavusoglu was flanked by Tahsin Ertugruloglu, foreign minister of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) who also have invited Athens for exploratory talks. 

"So Greece has no excuse right now," Cavusoglu said, adding that the talks would cover all issues between the two neighbours who are both members of the NATO transatlantic alliance.

Turkish Foreign Ministry later said the talks will resume on January 25 in Istanbul. 

60 rounds of talks since 2002

Greece's Foreign Ministry said it was willing to restart talks.

"Greece has expressed its intention to respond to any such invitation from the Turkish side, in accordance with international law, on the issue of demarcation of an EEZ and the continental shelf," a Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexandros Papaioannou said in a statement. 

Ankara and Athens are at odds over the extent of their continental shelves in the Mediterranean, offshore energy rights, air space, and the status of some islands.

They held 60 rounds of talks between 2002-2016.

Greece rejected talks planned for last year after Turkey deployed a seismic exploration vessel to disputed waters, but the Oruc Reis has since moved to Turkish shores. 

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Pressure on Greece 

Under pressure from some European Union (EU) members including Germany, Greece had indicated it could resume talks on January 11, the Turkish minister added.

Cavusoglu said Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama, who was in Ankara last week, had tried to bring him together with Greek counterpart Niko Dendias in Tirana, but that Dendias had refused at the time over the Oruc Reis. 

He said he was ready to meet Dendias in Tirana after the resumption of exploratory talks.

"This is an invitation. I hope Greece does not turn down this opportunity," Cavusoglu said. 

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Greece to extend western coastal waters

Also on Monday, Greece said it plans to extend territorial waters along its western coastline from six to 12 nautical miles, a move that could impact a tense row with Turkey.

Parliament will begin debating draft legislation this week for the extension, government spokesman Christos Tarantilis said.

Although Greece's western coastline faces Italy and borders Albania, the expansion is aimed at underscoring the country’s right to implement the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, which set the 12-mile limit in 1982.

"This is a historic decision, as Greece extends its territorial waters to 12 nautical miles in this area and expands – for the first time since 1947 – the area of its territory," Tarantilis said.

Two-state solution for Cyprus

Cavusoglu also stressed that sovereign equality must be negotiated and that there must be a two-state solution in Cyprus.

He said the stance of Turkey and the TRNC was very clear on the issue.

We are making efforts to holistically explain our stance to all segments, Cavusoglu said, adding that the issue had come to the fore in all his recent visits, especially in Portugal, Madrid, and EU countries.

"The process of inter-communal negotiations in Cyprus is over and the discussion on a federation is out of the question," TRNC's Ertugruloglu said.

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TRNC leader expected to meet UN envoy

According to Turkish Cypriot presidential sources, TRNC President Ersin Tatar is expected to meet the UN special envoy on Cyprus, Jane Holl Lute, on Monday afternoon.

Tatar is expected to convey clear and determined messages to Lute about the Turkish stance before a possible negotiation process that could begin on the Mediterranean island, according to the sources.

Tatar will explain in detail the model based on two separate states on the basis of sovereign equality advocated by the Turkish side on the Cyprus issue.

During the meeting, he is expected to tell the UN envoy that the negotiations cannot start from where they left off in Crans-Montana, Switzerland, and talks on a new federation are out of the question.

Lute will meet Greek Cypriot administration leader Nicos Anastasiades on Monday morning.

The meetings will come ahead of an expected 5+1 informal meeting on Cyprus which is planned to be held under the leadership of the UN soon.

READ MORE: Will the international community find a fair solution in the east Med?

Cyprus dispute

The island of Cyprus has been divided since 1974 when a Greek Cypriot coup was followed by violence against the island's Turks and Ankara's intervention as a guarantor power.

It has seen an on-and-off peace process in recent years, including a failed 2017 initiative in Switzerland under the auspices of guarantor countries Turkey, Greece and the UK.

The TRNC was founded in 1983.

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Several drillships

Turkey, which has the longest continental coastline in the Eastern Mediterranean, has rejected the maritime boundary claims of Greece and the Greek Cypriot administration in the region, stressing that these excessive claims violate the sovereign rights of both Turkey and the Turkish Cypriots.

Ankara last year sent several drillships to explore for energy on its continental shelf, asserting its own rights in the region, as well as those of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.

Turkish leaders have repeatedly stressed that Ankara is in favor of resolving all outstanding problems in the region through international law, good neighbourly relations, dialogue, and negotiation.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies