NATO chief confirms technical talks have started at a military level to reduce risk of conflict in the eastern Mediterranean after Athens said it never agreed to any talks.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu speaks to press members in Ankara, Turkey on September 4, 2020.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu speaks to press members in Ankara, Turkey on September 4, 2020. (AA)

Turkey has accused Greece of shunning dialogue and lying after Athens denied any agreement had been brokered by NATO to hold technical talks in bid to avert conflict in the eastern Mediterranean. 

Cavusoglu said Greece did in fact agree to the proposal when it was made. NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg confirmed on Friday that technical talks have already started. 

"Greece denied the secretary general's (remarks) but the one lying here is not the NATO secretary general, it's Greece itself," Cavusoglu told reporters in Ankara on Friday. 

Tensions escalated last month after Turkey dispatched a seismic survey vessel to the eastern Mediterranean for energy exploration following a maritime deal between Greece and Egypt. Turkey says the pact infringes on its continental shelf.

Greece dispatched its top diplomat to the UN on Friday to discuss the escalating conflict.

Technical talks

"Following my discussions with Greek and Turkish leaders, the two allies have met already for technical talks at NATO," Stoltenberg said, answering a question in an online press conference.

"The aim of these talks is to establish mechanisms for military de-confliction to reduce accidents in east Mediterranean," he said, explaining that no agreement has been reached on the mechanism as yet.

"These are technical talks, rather than negotiations on underlying disputes between Greece and Turkey."

Earlier on Thursday, Stoltenberg said Greek and Turkish leaders "agreed to enter into technical talks at NATO to establish mechanisms for military de-confliction to reduce the risk of incidents and accidents. "

But Athens said it had never agreed to the technical talks, which in any case did not constitute dialogue with Turkey, as Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said progress could only be made if Ankara stopped making "threats."

North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) allies Turkey and Greece vehemently disagree over claims to natural gas reserves in the eastern Mediterranean and the extent of their continental shelves.

READ MORE: NATO: Turkey, Greece agree to 'technical talks' on eastern Mediterranean

Greek FM heads to UN

Greece’s foreign minister headed to New York on Friday for talks with the United Nations secretary-general.

Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias' meeting with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres will focus on “issues of international and regional interest, with an emphasis on current developments in the eastern Mediterranean and the Cyprus issue, as well as the role of the UN," the Greek Foreign Ministry said.

Mitsotakis said Dendias would be delivering a letter from him to Guterres detailing what he called Turkey's illegal activity in the region.

Speaking with China’s top diplomat Yang Jiechi in Athens, Mitsotakis said Greece faces aggression from Turkey and “actions that dispute every rule of the UN charter, with rhetoric that distorts history and changes geography, undermining legality and with actions that are endangering security in the entire Mediterranean.”

READ MORE: Greek troops seen mobilising on island of Kastellorizo

Worst tension for decades 

The current crisis is the most serious in the two countries’ relations in decades. 

The neighbours have come to the brink of war three times since the mid-1970s, including once over maritime resources in the Aegean Sea.

Turkey – the country with the longest coastline on the Mediterranean – has sent out drillships to explore for energy on its continental shelf, saying that Turkey and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) have rights in the region.

Greece has also recently carried out military drills – including with France – meant to intimidate Turkey into stopping energy exploration and has illegally armed Aegean islands in violation of longstanding peace treaties.

Athens' recent maritime delimitation agreement with Egypt also violates Turkey's continental shelf and maritime rights, sparking further tensions between the two neighbours.

Cavusoglu on Friday also criticised France for provoking Greece against Turkey, He called on France stay out of the east Mediterranean, where it does not belong.

READ MORE: Can defense spending help Greece force its way in the eastern Med?

Source: TRTWorld and agencies