ANKARA (Reuters) – President Tayyip Erdogan said on Tuesday he hoped the resumption of talks between Turkey and Greece over maritime disputes would herald a new era, and he urged Athens not to escalate tensions in the region.
NATO members Ankara and Athens announced on Monday they had agreed to resume on Jan. 25 long-suspended exploratory talks over disputed offshore rights in the Mediterranean, which brought them close to conflict last year.
Turkey angered Greece and the European Union last year when it deployed a seismic survey vessel to waters also claimed by Athens. The ship has returned to shore but the NATO members still disagree over continental shelves and rights to resources.
The new round of talks are set for Istanbul later this month.
“We must stop the Mediterranean from being an area for competition and turn into waters that will serve our long-term interests,” Erdogan told EU ambassadors in Ankara.
“We urge Greece to refrain from actions that will escalate tensions. I believe the exploratory talks with Greece that will start on Jan. 25 will herald a new era,” he said.
Ankara and Athens held 60 rounds of talks from 2002 to 2016, but plans last year for a resumption foundered over the survey vessel and disagreements over topics to be covered.
Last year, the EU threatened potential sanctions on Ankara over the dispute but has postponed any measures to March. Turkey has in recent weeks repeatedly called for better ties with the bloc.
Erdogan also said he would host EU Council President Charles Michel and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen in Turkey at the end of January, adding that he had offered to show von der Leyen the housing units built in northwest Syria’s Idlib region for displaced people.
He said the EU had offered to build a portion of the houses during clashes last year between Russia-backed Syrian government forces and Turkey, but that the bloc had not kept its promise.
(Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by Jonathan Spicer)