ATHENS — NATO allies Greece and Turkey came to the brink of war just a few years ago over competing energy rights in the Aegean and eastern Mediterranean seas. Now, as both sides near key national elections, the government in Athens is extending an olive branch, saying it is open to Turkey joining in on lucrative energy projects.
In a television interview with Greece’s national broadcaster, Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias said it was imperative for Athens and Ankara to capitalize on their thawed relations.
After national elections are held in both countries next month, both sides can sit down and talk seriously. But to do so, Dendias said, there must be an agreed framework of discussion.
That is more likely to be worked out now, according to the Greek foreign minister, who said it would be a shame to squander such an opportunity given the excellent relations currently between the two countries.
Such remarks would have been unthinkable even months ago, when the two sides were hurling war threats and engaging in dangerous war games in the Aegean Sea over competing energy rights to vast oil and gas deposits in the eastern Mediterranean.
But after a set of devastating earthquakes struck Turkey earlier this year and Greece rushed to the support of its age-old foe, also prodding its European Union allies to provide urgent financial assistance to the government in Ankara, relations have taken a remarkable shift.
Dendias said daily and dangerous overflights in the Aegean by Turkish warplanes have ceased entirely. Communication between the two sides has resumed. And even the prospect of cooperation regarding once contentious energy projects is now being welcomed by Athens.
Among them is the so-called East Mediterranean Gas Forum that includes regional states like Israel, Egypt and Jordan. Greece now says it is open to inviting Turkey.
Any participation by another country would require approval from the other members. However, it would mark a very important move, as Dendias put it.
Other prospective cooperation includes a nearly $4 billion grid connector, streaming across the Mediterranean, which Greece and Egypt want to build in coming years, tapping into lucrative reserves that are currently being explored.
Turkey has disputed access to those areas, which Greece claims exclusively as its own in the eastern Mediterranean, sparking tension and naval standoffs between the two sides in recent years.
Whether the solid climate of affairs between Greece and Turkey will be sustained for talks to be held remains uncertain.
In recent days and at an election rally in Turkey, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan renewed territorial claims against Greece. So, too, have other leading officials.
But Dendias insists that should not spoil the climate of trust building up between the two NATO allies.
It’s clear the rhetoric is aimed at Erdogan’s domestic audience. And it is also clear, Dendias said, the upcoming elections will not be a walk in the park for Erdogan and that Turkey’s positions on longstanding issues with Greece will not change overnight.
Dendias said 63 attempts to restart constructive dialogue between Greece and Turkey have failed. But there is hope the 64th attempt will succeed after May elections in both Greece and Turkey.