Erdogan calls for peace talks in Mediterranean dispute

President says Turkey is open to a dialogue with Greece without preconditions

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Turkey’s president said he is willing to negotiate an end to the dispute with Greece over maritime rights in the eastern Mediterranean.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan indicated on Monday that he would accept a compromise put forward by Germany in which the European Union would give Turkey more trading rights in return for a deal.

The stand-off between Turkey and Greece over gas exploration and maritime boundaries threatened to spill over into open conflict over the summer.

But a sign that Mr Erdogan was moving away from war came during a speech he gave before a law symposium in Istanbul, where he said Turkey would go to the negotiating table.

“We have always answered the calls for peace, and we have walked towards those who walked towards us," he said. "Now that the German Chancellor Mrs Merkel has initiated certain diplomacy, we support that relevant diplomacy.”

His reference to Mrs Merkel came as EU leaders meet this week to discuss whether to impose sanctions on the struggling Turkish banking sector because of Mr Erdogan’s demands for access to large parts of the eastern Mediterranean.

Germany is acting as the mediator between Greece and Turkey and has raised the possibility of an enhanced customs union deal to resolve the dispute.

However, Greece regards this as rewarding Turkey’s aggression and was backed in that position by France’s President Emmanuel Macron, who has offered Athens military support, including the potential sale of 18 Rafale jets. Mr Macron has also led the EU side that opposes Ankara’s increasingly belligerent foreign policy that has included deploying Turkish forces in Libya.

At times, the dispute in the Aegean Sea has led to concerns of a naval conflict between Greece and Turkey, which are Nato allies

But on Monday Mr Erdogan said: “We are open for dialogue with Greece, without any preconditions”, adding that international and maritime law put Turkey on the right side in terms of territorial boundaries over the gas reserves estimated at 3.5 trillion cubic metres.

“We should all come together. Let's make the Mediterranean Sea peaceful,” Mr Erdogan said. “Let's come together and make this matter as a matter of cooperation, not conflict.

“We want the climate of peace to be rebuilt in the region, Turkey sides with peace, stability, equality and justice in the Mediterranean, not conflicts.”

But he also said, possibly with France and others in mind, that Turkey “stands against the imperialist expansionism in the Mediterranean”.

“Turkey will be defending its own rights, as well as the rights of the Turkish Cypriots all the way to the end,” he said.