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Turkey, Greece ’close’ to Aegean peace, sources say

Wednesday 1 June 2011, by Murat Yetkin

Turkey and Greece are inching closer to each other on a conceptual peace deal regarding the Aegean dispute through a process of closed diplomacy, sources told the Hürriyet Daily News on Wednesday.

Ongoing talks have reached a “promising level” following a meeting between the Turkish Foreign Ministry Undersecretary Feridun Sinirlioğlu and his Greek counterpart, Pavlos Apostolidis, in Çeşme in the Aegean province of İzmir on May 16-17, according to one diplomatic source.

Coincidentally, that was also the day when the Turkish Armed Forces started two planned major military exercises, namely Denizkurdu and Efes, in the İzmir region.

The source told the Daily News that the Athens meeting in early March had been planned as the last one before the Turkish elections on June 12, but due to a recent improvement in the process, the diplomats decided to meet spontaneously to examine the progress made.

No details were revealed on those “exploratory” talks between the two rival neighbors, though the Daily News has learned that the concept involves both air space and continental shelf issues.

The foreign ministries of the two countries agreed on this method following Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s visit to Athens last year. No papers on the talks were circulated and other than the diplomats involved, only the two foreign ministers, Ahmet Davutoğlu on the Turkish side and Dimitris Droutsas on the Greek side, know about the details of the talks.

The peace package subject to talks also contains confidence-building measures, including increased relations between the nations’ armed forces and a mutual decrease in armament.

Last August, Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou complained about low-level patrol flights of Turkish jets over the Aegean at a conference organized by the Turkish Foreign Ministry in the eastern province of Erzurum. Turkey also claims its airspace is frequently violated by Greek jets.

Both Turkish and Greek sources were careful to make no connection between the cancellation of the last and ceremonial stage of the Turkish military exercises by the Turkish General Staff late Tuesday. On the contrary, they pointed to a high-level Greek military delegation visiting Ankara at the moment within the framework of improving relations.

Yet, according to one source, the Turkish military may have some frustrations as the Foreign Ministry is carrying out all the work, despite consultations with the military.

The two NATO countries came to the brink of war over sovereignty rights over two tiny and uninhabited islands near the Turkish coast in 1996. The crisis was solved with a degree of U.S. mediation, after which the two countries begun exploratory talks.

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Source : Hürriyet Daily News, Wednesday, May 25, 2011

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