ISTANBUL – Turkey’s president indicated on Friday that he would be open to easing tensions with neighboring Greece by floating the possibility of a face-to-face meeting with the Greek prime minister following months of saber-rattling over energy resources in the Eastern Mediterranean.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told reporters after prayers in Istanbul that he would “positively” consider a meeting that he said Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis had requested.
Erdogan said the two countries’ foreign ministers had met and bilateral talks were ongoing. “So we said we can take the steps for talks between our special representatives and then between the Prime Minister and myself could happen.”
Relations between the neighbors and nominal NATO allies hit new lows over the summer due to a dispute over maritime borders and energy rights, bringing them to the brink of war.
Turkey dispatched a research vessel, escorted by warships, to search for hydrocarbon resources in disputed waters. Greece answered by sending its own frigates, claiming Turkey had violated its sovereign rights.
Earlier this week, both countries announced the resumption of exploratory talks on Jan. 25. The talks would be the latest in a long-running process of negotiations between Greece and Turkey that aim to improve their often testy relations.
A Greek government official said the Greek side viewed the possibility of a meeting between the two leaders as positive, if the current positive climate in relations continued. The official spoke on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to speak publicly on the issue.
The official said the prime minister has repeatedly stated his desire for open channels of communication with Turkey at the highest level.
In December, the European Union gave the green light for the expansion of sanctions against Turkey over its exploration of gas reserves in waters claimed by EU members Greece and Cyprus.
Though Ankara has repeatedly said sanctions would not deter Turkey from defending its energy rights, Erdogan has expressed a readiness to put frayed relations with the EU “back on track” and called on them display the same determination.
Erdogan spoke with Italian Prime Minister Guiseppe Conte Friday, thanking him for his support within the EU. “I believe Italy will direct the European Union to a prudent and just attitude in the Eastern Mediterranean,” the Turkish president said.