Greece-Turkey exploratory talks – A cautious start

The 61st round of talks is a probing process

A new round of exploratory talks between Greece and Turkey is scheduled to commence on Monday in Constantinople, as the delegations of the two sides will meet at 11:00 today in Turkey’s largest city.

An important question is whether Monday’s exploratory contacts between the Greek diplomatic mission of ambassadors Pavlos Apostolidis and Alexandros Kougiou and the Turkish negotiating mission of Sedat Onal and Cagatay Erciyes will remain confidential, as agreed upon in 2016. This is because pundits consider it possible that Ankara might attempt to ‘entrap’ the Greek side by leaking selective issues raised informally to the press in order to limit Athens’ room for maneuver or even to lead the Greek Foreign Ministry to pull out of the talks altogether, making Greece appear intransigent and unwilling to talk.

“The Turks are acting with a long-term view. At this point, they feel that they are losing the opportunity to make gains in the field”, observed a top government official with whom “THEMA” spoke a few hours before negotiations begin.

The first round of exploratory contacts between Greece and Turkey after five years will most likely have a ‘probing’ character, as both sides will attempt to decipher the intentions of each other.

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The recent expansion of Greek territorial waters to 12 nautical miles in the Ionian has led the two governments to reiterate their already known positions: Athens stressed that it is ready to exercise its sovereign right, as per the international law, to extend its territorial waters anywhere “in time, in a way and under conditions that it will choose” and Ankara, through Mevlüt Çavuşoglu, reiterated that “Turkey’s position on the issue of Aegean territorial waters has not changed”, so a possible expansion of the Greek territorial sea in the Aegean is considered casus belli -that is, a cause of war- by the Turkish side.

The talks will have an informal nature and are therefore not binding to either side. Given that at Monday’s meeting each side will raise the issues it seeks to include in the agenda of talks, one can easily assume that a subsequent round of talks will follow. However, making any predictions as to whether there will be a follow-up or formalisation after the next round of negotiations is precarious, if the two sides fail to reach any common ground; a possibility that cannot be ruled out given their expressed positions so far. The Greeks, on the one hand, say all islands have a full right of delimitation of sea zones between the Turkish coast and the Aegean islands, while the Turkish side, on the other hand, claims that the islands have zero sea rights around them by torpedoing the discussions with the claim that the boundary line must be drawn in the middle of the Aegean, all while threatening via Foreign Minister Cavusoglu of open war if Greece acted upon its right to implement a 12 nautical-mile expansion.