First high-level Greek-Turkish diplomatic talks in a year descend into verbal spat during news conference

A press conference by the Turkish and Greek foreign ministers after a key meeting on Thursday quickly descended into an exchange of mutual accusations, suggesting the two states still have plenty of issues to settle.

Tensions have been running particularly high between the two NATO members since last August, when Ankara sent a research vessel into disputed waters in the Eastern Mediterranean, believed to be rich with natural resources. The move saw both countries escalate and mobilize military vessels and planes. Ankara eventually recalled its research ship, but Athens kept actively campaigning for the EU to slap “meaningful” sanctions on Turkey over its aggressive behavior.

And this is not the only point of contention between the sides, which also have conflicting claims over air space, the island of Cyprus, and the status of several islands in the Aegean Sea, among other things.

The first visit of Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias to Ankara since the outbreak of the Mediterannean crisis was seen as an opportunity to start improving bilateral relations, but things didn’t go totally smoothly.

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The press conference after his meeting with Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglum started in a positive manner, with the Greek guest offering support to Turkey’s bid to join the EU and speaking positively about resetting ties.

But moods changed instantly when Dendias stressed that violations of Greek sovereignty by Turkey would be countered with sanctions.

“Greece’s position is clear. Turkey has violated international law and maritime law in the Aegean and eastern Mediterranean,” he said, while also blaming Ankara for repeatedly flying its aircraft through Greek airspace.

Cavusoglu didn’t mince words in his response, rejecting Dendias’s claims and labeling them “unacceptable.”

“You come out here, and try to accuse Turkey, to give a message to your country. It is not possible for me to accept this,” he said.

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The Turkish FM insisted that his country hadn’t infringed on Greek sovereignty in its exploration and drilling work, and also accused Athens of pushing back migrants in the Aegean.

“When we get into mutual accusations, we have a lot to tell each other. If you want to continue these arguments, tensions, you can [and] we will do so as well,” Cavusoglu added.

Despite the exchange, both ministers expressed a readiness to continue their efforts to resolve the differences at the negotiating table.

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