Monday, March 1, 2021

Germany hails ‘positive signals’ from Turkey on east Med

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Germany’s Foreign Minister Heiko Maas on Monday hailed “positive signals” from Turkey on the thorny issue of gas exploration in the eastern Mediterranean during a visit to Ankara.

Tensions between the European Union and Turkey reached new levels last year after Ankara repeatedly sent a research ship to disputed waters, angering the bloc itself and its member states Greece and Cyprus.

But in the weeks after Turkey withdrew the vessel, Oruc Reis, in November and Brussels drew up a plan for sanctions last month, both sides’ rhetoric has softened.

Read more: Turkey targets ‘weakest link’ Cyprus in regional dominance bid

Turkey and Greece have agreed to hold exploratory talks on their maritime dispute in Istanbul on January 25, resuming consultations suspended in 2016.

“We wanted to make this visit because of many positive signals recently,” Maas said during his visit.

Maas cancelled a visit to Turkey in October in an apparent rejection of Ankara’s decision to send the Oruc Reis ship to the eastern Mediterranean.

Turkey’s move angered Germany, which was then at the helm of the rotating EU presidency and had spearheaded European efforts to resolve tensions between Greece and Turkey through dialogue.

Difficult arguments

“We’ve had difficult arguments including for example on the eastern Mediterranean,” Maas said.

“Some allies’ warships came head-to-head. And we don’t want these kinds of events,” Maas said in reference to a naval standoff between the two NATO members Greece and Turkey in August that saw their gunboats collide.

“This is why it is important for us to support positive signals and this progress.”

Maas added he wanted EU-Turkey relations to “improve, to deepen” and for “all available options” to be evaluated.

Read more: Erdogan seeks to turn ‘new page’ with EU, as Turkey prepares for Biden

Turkey’s accession talks to join the EU began in 2005 although they have since frozen but the two sides have worked together on managing migration in recent years.

Ankara and Brussels signed a six-billion-euro ($7.2-billion) agreement in 2016 after more than a million refugees and migrants fled to Europe, the majority to Germany, in 2015.

In exchange for financial support, Ankara would stop people leaving Turkey for Europe and take back migrants not entitled to international protection.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu echoed Maas’ comments, emphasising the importance of dialogue but also calling for “concrete results”.

Read more: Turkey urges US to reopen dialogue after missile sanctions

“Visa liberalisation could come into existence,” Cavusoglu said, referring to the EU’s offer under the 2016 deal. “This was a promise.”

He also called for an update to the migration agreement as well as the Customs Union between Ankara and Brussels.

AFP with additional input by GVS News Desk

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