Greek premier meets with NATO chief over tension with Turkey

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Greece’s prime minister reiterated on Tuesday that his country is prepared to hold talks with fellow NATO member Turkey about a dispute over maritime boundaries in the eastern Mediterranean.

Speaking after meeting with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg in Athens, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said the dispute, which saw Greek and Turkish warships facing off in the eastern Mediterranean, was a threat to NATO’s cohesion.

However, he said he reiterated that Greece “is always ready for dialogue, according to the rules of international law, good neighborly relations and the principle of solidarity, which is at the core of the framework of the North Atlantic alliance.”

Stoltenberg was visiting Athens a day after he held meetings in Ankara with Turkish government officials, including President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusloglu. He voiced hope that the two sides would be able to hold diplomatic negotiations to settle their differences — a hope he reiterated in Athens on Tuesday.

When Turkey “disputes the sovereign rights of one, it opens wide the road to dispute the rights of others too,” Mitsotakis said.

Tension between neighbors Greece and Turkey flared this summer over energy prospecting rights in an area between Turkey’s southern coast, several Greek islands and the war-divided island of Cyprus after Turkey sent a research vessel, escorted by warships, into areas where Greece and Cyprus claim exclusive economic rights.

The hostility has eased in recent days, and NATO has helped set up a deconfliction mechanism, including a hotline between the two countries’ militaries, to avoid the possibility of a military accident leading to open conflict.

The hotline, Stoltenberg said, is “available 24 hours a day to facilitate deconfliction at sea and in the air. … We stand ready to develop it further.”

The deconfliction mechanism, he added, “can help to create the space for diplomatic efforts.”

“It is my firm hope that the underlying disputes between the two allies can now be addressed purely through negotiations in the spirit of allied solidarity and international law,” the NATO chief said.

Mitsotakis welcomed recent Turkish moves to reduce tension, but said “it remains to be seen if this is an honest move or a temporary maneuver.”

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