Turkey, Greece Set for First Exploratory Talks in Five Years

ISTANBUL, TURKEY - MARCH 22: People walk along the street with Turkish flag on background on March 22, 2019 in Istanbul, Turkey. (Photo by Oleg Nikishin/Getty Images) Photographer: Oleg Nikishin/Getty Images Europe
ISTANBUL, TURKEY - MARCH 22: People walk along the street with Turkish flag on background on March 22, 2019 in Istanbul, Turkey. (Photo by Oleg Nikishin/Getty Images) Photographer: Oleg Nikishin/Getty Images Europe

(Bloomberg) -- Turkey and Greece are set to hold preliminary talks to tackle differences over maritime boundaries and offshore energy resources for the first time since the last round of similar negotiations in 2016.

Officials from the two countries will meet in Istanbul on Jan. 25 to begin “exploratory talks,” the Turkish and Greek foreign ministries said late Monday.

The announcement marks the most significant development since the European Union last month pledged to expand a list of people targeted with sanctions over Turkey’s energy exploration in the disputed waters of the eastern Mediterranean Sea.

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President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has in recent months toned down his mostly confrontational rhetoric toward the 27-nation bloc, saying that Turkey wants a new chapter in relations with the EU. The Turkish leader is set to meet a group of EU ambassadors at his office later Tuesday. His government last month ordered Oruc Reis, a seismic ship whose offshore surveys angered officials in Greece, to limit its work to an area far away from Greek islands through June 15.

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The governments in Ankara and Athens are at loggerheads over maritime borders. Competing claims to sovereignty over waters rich in hydrocarbon reserves led to a naval standoff between Greece and Turkey in 2020.

Greece maintains that islands must be taken into account in delineating a country’s continental shelf, in line with the United Nations Law of the Sea, which Turkey hasn’t signed. Ankara argues that a country’s continental shelf should be measured from its mainland, and that some of the areas claimed by Greece -- just a few kilometers off Turkey’s southern coast -- fall within its exclusive economic zone.

Another thorn in the relationship is Turkey’s 1974 takeover of northern Cyprus, following a coup attempt in which a military junta in Athens sought to unite the island with Greece.