Athens ready to talk if ‘tangible evidence’ of de-escalation from Ankara seen

Greece is ready to sit down for exploratory talks with Turkey on the delimitation of maritime zones, on the condition that it sees “tangible evidence” of de-escalation from Ankara, PM Kyriakos Mitsotakis told a press conference on Tuesday during a visit to Athens by Council President Charles Michel.

Michel’s visit comes ahead of the upcoming European Council summit on 24-55 September, where developments in the Eastern Mediterranean will be topping the agenda. The Council president will also be visiting Cyprus on Wednesday.

“Turkey has time before and after the summit to continue with the first encouraging step,” Mitsotakis said, referring to the departure over the weekend of the Turkish seismic survey vessel from the Greek continental shelf.

European support expressed for Greece and Cyprus over the ongoing dispute with Turkey over energy and maritime rights in the region is a tacit acknowledgment that the “EU’s strategic interests are also at stake” in the region, adding that efforts at de-escalation must have “continuity and consistency,” the PM pointed out. 

For his part, Michel said that the EU must adopt a “strict” stance demonstrating its determination that its values and principles are upheld. “We are also ready to open our arms and show that a positive agenda is possible if there is a common will for these principles to be respected,” he added.

The refugee crisis was also discussed at length between the two officials, particularly in light of recent events on island of Lesvos, where thousands of migrants were left homeless last week by the destruction of the notorious Moria camp. The events on Lesvos, said Mitsotakis, demonstrate the complexity of the migration issue and tell us that it “needs to be dealt with at the European level.” 

“The migration crisis is a challenge to Europe as a whole and not just to front-line countries,” agreed Michel, saying that a new migration pact being drawn up by the European Commission needs to focus on “stemming illegal immigration” and “harmonizing protocols” for redistribution, returns and deportations.

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