ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — NATO members Turkey and Greece can resolve their disputes through peaceful means and dialogue, Turkey’s defense minister said after talks with his Greek counterpart Tuesday, in the latest sign of easing tensions between the rival neighbors.
Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar and Greece’s Nikos Panagiotopoulos toured areas devastated by a powerful earthquake in early February during a rare visit by the Greek official. The trip is part of efforts to tamp down tensions over long-standing disputes, including maritime boundaries and drilling rights in the eastern Mediterranean.
Greece was among the first countries to offer help to Turkey following the earthquake and the outpouring of support led to a de-escalation of tensions. Turkey for its part, offered its condolences and support following a deadly train crash in northern Greece.
“I hope that as two civilized countries, Turkey and Greece can solve these problems within the framework of good neighborly relations … through peaceful means and methods and amid mutual respect and dialogue,” Akar told reporters.
“Our hope and expectation is that the positive, constructive atmosphere we experienced after the earthquake disaster will continue … and the doors of dialogue will remain open,” he said.
The two ministers flew over the earthquake-affected areas by helicopter and held talks in Hatay, the hardest hit province. Meanwhile, Notis Mitarachi, Greece’s minister for migration and asylum, visited a refugee camp on the Turkish-Syrian border.
Panagiotopoulos said: “The symbolic message that comes from tragedies and natural disasters of this scale go far beyond any disagreement and differences that we may have. They may act as a lever to reduce tension and create the circumstances to facilitate better communication between the two sides.”
“The aim … – and we must work toward that, – is to create an atmosphere of cooperation and stability between our two countries,” he added.
Greece and Turkey resumed high-level meetings following the earthquake, including talks aimed at boosting trade and other cooperation in areas unrelated to the disputes.
Prior to that, tensions had flared in 2020 over exploratory drilling rights in areas in the Mediterranean Sea where Greece and Cyprus claim their own exclusive economic zone, leading to a naval standoff.
Turkey had also blasted Greece for maintaining a military presence on eastern Greek islands that it maintains violates international treaties. Greece countered that it faces a direct threat from Turkey, which has a significant military presence in the Turkish coast near the islands,