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Turkey says conditions conducive to launching talks with Greece

Turkish seismic research vessel Oruc Reis is seen in Istanbul

ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey believes conditions are conducive to restarting talks with fellow NATO member Greece after Ankara’s Oruc Reis seismic survey vessel left contested waters in the eastern Mediterranean, Turkish Presidential Spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said on Thursday.

Turkey and Greece have been locked in a bitter dispute over conflicting claims on the extent of their continental shelves and exploration for potential energy resources in the eastern Mediterranean. Tensions flared last month when Turkey sent the Oruc Reis to contested waters also claimed by Greece and Cyprus.

On Sunday, Oruc Reis returned to Turkey’s southern province of Antalya for what Ankara called “routine maintenance”, a move Greece called a positive first step in easing tensions. The two countries began talks at NATO to avoid military accidents in the region, after a small naval collision last month.

Speaking at an online panel, Kalin said Oruc Reis’ return to Antalya was an opportunity to advance talks and this “should not be squandered”, adding that Ankara hopes this will be “reflected positively” at a European Union summit on Sept. 24-25.

“We want to see a new page turned in the relations between Turkey and Greece, but also in relations between Turkey and the EU,” Kalin said.

“We are hopeful, we believe the climate is conducive to that at the moment and we have, I think, reached an understanding with regards to which steps we need to be taking over the next few weeks to resume these talks,” he said.

On Wednesday, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Oruc Reis’ maintenance may take “a few weeks” according to the energy ministry, but added the vessel will resume its operations afterwards.

EU leaders will address the issue at the summit later this month and evaluate potential sanctions. Germany wants more time for talks with Turkey while France, Cyprus and Greece demand a punitive response to Turkey.

Turkey has two exploration vessels off the divided island of Cyprus, which has long been at odds with Ankara over oil and gas drilling. Turkey recognised a breakaway Turkish Cypriot state in the north of the island, but not the internationally-recognised Greek Cypriot government.

(Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by Kirsten Donovan)

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