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Turkey stops eastern Mediterranean drilling, wants talks with Greece

The area in which Turkey planned to drill for gas is considered by Greece and Cyprus to be their waters.

Turkey is halting its plans to drill for energy in the eastern Mediterranean. The news could reduce tensions between Turkey and Europe on the thorny issue for the time being.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan ordered a stop to seismic research activities pertaining to gas exploration in the sea, the state-run Anadolu Agency reported Tuesday. Erdogan’s office now says it is willing to negotiate with Greece “without any precondition,” according to Anadolu.

Turkey planned to drill for gas in the eastern Mediterranean based on an agreement with Libya’s UN-recognized Government of National Accord (GNA). However, Greece, Cyprus and the European Union consider the area to be Greek and Cypriot maritime territory.

Turkey has received significant condemnation for its project there from European states, most recently from Germany.

It is unclear how talks between Greece and Turkey on the issue will go or whether they will happen at all. Greece and Turkey have a complex and often tense relationship that goes back to Ottoman times. Turkey and Cyprus also have a difficult relationship, which is largely due to the 1975 division of the island of Cyprus into the Greek Republic of Cyprus and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.

Erdogan and Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis did meet in June to discuss the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Greek and Cypriot foreign ministers had a phone conversation Tuesday with “Turkish actions in focus,” the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a tweet.

The possibility remains that Turkey resumes its plans to drill in the area. “Energy projects in the eastern Mediterranean that exclude Turkey from the energy equation are doomed to fail,” Turkish Minister of Defense Hulusi Akar said Tuesday.