Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias and Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu attend a meeting with NATO foreign ministers, amid Russia's invasion of Ukraine, at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, Thursdaym April 7, 2022. (Evelyn Hockstein, Pool via AP)

Turkish and Greek foreign ministers talk to improve ties

ANKARA, Turkey –

Greece’s foreign minister met with his Turkish counterpart on Tuesday for talks aimed at improving ties between the NATO allies that are at loggerheads over a string of decades-old disputes.

Discussions between Greece’s Giorgos Gerapetritis and Turkey’s Hakan Fidan are taking place in a more friendly climate triggered by Greece sending assistance to Turkey following a devastating earthquake earlier this year, and Turkey offering condolences after a deadly train accident in Greece.

The talks are expected to focus on a possible resumption of stalled high-level contacts aimed at reducing tensions between the two countries. The meeting comes as Ankara, in the throes of an economic downturn, is seeking a reset of its often-troubled relations with Western nations.

It follows a rare meeting between President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis on the sidelines of a NATO summit in Vilnius in July.

The two neighbours disagree over territorial claims in the Aegean Sea, energy exploration rights in the eastern Mediterranean and ethnically split Cyprus, among other issues.

Tensions flared in 2020 over exploratory drilling rights in areas of the Mediterranean Sea — where Greece and Cyprus claim exclusive economic zones — leading to a naval standoff.

In recent years, Turkey has accused Greece of deploying troops on Aegean islands close to the Turkish coast in violation of treaties. Greece says it needs to defend the islands against a potential attack from Turkey, noting Turkey has a sizeable military force on the western Turkish coast. Turkish officials said continued militarization of the islands could lead to Turkey questioning their ownership while Erdogan went as far as to threaten sending a missile to Athens.

Last year, Erdogan had pledged never to talk to with Mitsotakis, furious at the Greek leader who during a visit to the United States called on Washington not to sell F-16 fighter jets to Turkey.