Fresh talks between Turkey and Greece over a dispute in the eastern Mediterranean will begin “soon”, a senior adviser to Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said as he sought to dial down tensions ahead of a critical European summit.
Ibrahim Kalin, the president’s official spokesman and one of his main advisers, said the recent return to port of the Turkish vessel the Oruc Reis, which had been conducting exploratory work in territory claimed by Greece and Cyprus, offered an “opportunity” for dialogue.
“Our president has given a chance to diplomacy again,” Mr Kalin said during an online event hosted by the European Council on Foreign Relations. “Hopefully the Greek side will use this as an opportunity to advance the talks. We will resume exploratory talks soon.”
Senior Turkish officials had previously said the ship was simply returning to shore for routine maintenance work.
In recent months tensions between Athens and its allies and Ankara have reached their highest level in decades as disputes over hydrocarbon exploration in the eastern Mediterranean have combined with broader geopolitical disputes to fuel an escalating stand-off.
The two sides have traded fiery rhetoric and dispatched naval vessels to the region, prompting fears that Greece and Turkey, both Nato member states, could engage in a direct military confrontation.
Alarmed by what they see as Mr Erdogan’s aggressive and provocative approach in the eastern Mediterranean, Greece, Cyprus and France have led calls for the EU to order harsher measures against Ankara during planned talks on Turkey by bloc leaders at a summit next week.
Germany, meanwhile, has been at the forefront of efforts to lower tensions and broker talks.
Mr Kalin said Ankara wanted to see “a new page turned in relations between Turkey and Greece and also between Turkey and the EU”.
He added: “We are hopeful. We believe the climate is conducive to [positive progress] at the moment.”
His comments echo hopes on the EU side of a de-escalation in the run-up to next week’s summit after the return of the Oruc Reis to port.
Charles Michel, European Council president, has previously said that “all options” are on the table for an EU response. Mr Michel spoke to Mr Erdogan on Thursday.
Josep Borrell, the bloc’s foreign policy chief, has drafted a list of possible new countermeasures, including stopping Turkish companies involved in the energy controversy from using European ports, products and finance.
The EU in February sanctioned two Turkish Petroleum Corporation executives over the drilling activities and indicated it would add more if it felt Ankara’s actions justified the move.
But many EU states alarmed by Ankara’s behaviour are also reluctant to intensify hostilities because of the role played by Turkey, which is home to 4m refugees from Syria and other countries, in limiting migration to Europe.
The EU’s position has been further complicated by Cyprus’ insistence that the bloc’s plan to impose sanctions on the regime in Belarus mean that it should for consistency’s sake also impose further countermeasures on Turkey.
Diplomats say it is unclear whether Cyprus will try to press its case further at a meeting of EU foreign ministers on Monday, when Mr Borrell wants to sign off on a package of Belarus sanctions.
Cyprus officials deny they are blocking the proposed Belarus sanctions, arguing instead that, as a small country, they need time to analyse the measures because they lack the bureaucratic capacity to do so quickly.