LONDON

Greece and Turkey are “valued allies” and NATO’s role is to provide a platform to address differences between the two countries, the alliance’s chief said on Thursday.

Jens Stoltenberg, speaking at an online webinar hosted by UK-based think tank Chatham House, said disagreements can be overcome through “honest discussions”.

“And that’s exactly what we have done when it comes to, for instance, the situation in the eastern Mediterranean,” the NATO secretary general said.

Stoltenberg said therefore we “have been able to establish at NATO what we call a deconfliction mechanism.”

He said: “And that’s actually a military alliance of communications, a hotline, military-technical talks between the Greek and Turkish military and personnel here at NATO in Brussels.

“And by that, reducing the risks of incidents, accidents between ships, planes in the Eastern Med coming from Turkey and Greece.”

Stoltenberg underlined that reducing tensions is important as it would prevent accidents that would lead to casualties.

He argued that the deconfliction mechanism at NATO “has also helped to pave the way for Greece and Turkey to sit down and restart what they call exploratory talks on the underlying disagreements.”

“So, yes, there are concerns, but I think the most important thing NATO can do is to try to find ways to step by step, not only complain about the concerns and express concerns, but also find a positive approach, a way forward,” he added.

“And over the last weeks or months, we have seen some important steps in the right direction, proving, proving that NATO has an important role to play also when allies disagree, as they do, for instance, in the eastern Mediterranean.”

Dispute

Turkey, which has the longest continental coastline in the Eastern Mediterranean, has rejected the maritime boundary claims by Greece and the Greek Cypriot administration, stressing that these excessive claims violate the sovereign rights of Turkey and the Turkish Cypriots.

Ankara last year sent several drill ships to explore for energy in the Eastern Mediterranean, asserting its rights in the region, as well as those of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC).

Turkish leaders have repeatedly stressed that Ankara is in favor of resolving outstanding problems in the region through international law, good neighborly relations, dialogue, and negotiations.

The first exploratory talks between Greece and Turkey in nearly five years were held last month.

Exploratory talks between Turkey and Greece, meant to find fair and equitable settlements to issues in the Aegean, began in 2002.

After the 60th round of talks in March 2016, Athens suspended the meetings.

Bilateral talks continued in the form of political consultations, but did not return to the exploratory framework.​​​​​​

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