Turkey, Greece to restart negotiations, European Council postpones summit

(Updates with Erdoğan's talk with Macron in paragraphs 8-10)

Turkey and Greece are ready to start exploratory talks, Turkey’s Presidential Communications Directorate said in a statement following President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s video conference with European Council President Charles Michel and German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Tuesday.

In the summit Erdoğan said the relative momentum achieved regarding the Eastern Mediterranean dispute between Turkey, Greece and Cyprus “should be protected with mutual steps in order to reduce the tension and operate the dialogue channels,” and that Turkey always emphasized dialogue “despite provocations.”

A regional conference with participation from “all parties in the Eastern Mediterranean, including Turkish Cypriots,” would be constructive, Erdoğan said.

The breakaway Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), established after Turkey’s invasion of the Mediterranean island in 1974, is recognized by Turkey alone and none of the European Council member states.

Turkey’s standing with the Customs Union, the waiving of Schengen visa requirements for Turkish citizens, and the refugee crisis were among topics discussed in the trilateral summit where Erdoğan expressed appreciation for Germany’s mediation efforts with Greece, and “a fresh breath of air in Turkey-EU relations,” according to the statement.

The special European Council summit scheduled for Sept. 24 and 25 was postponed to Oct. 1 and 2, Michel’s Spokesman Barend Leyts announced, citing the Council president’s contact with a coronavirus-positive officer. Michel will remain in COVID-19 quarantine in accordance with Belgium’s laws.

European leaders would have evaluated possible sanctions against Turkey over its claim on the internationally-recognised territorial waters of Greece and Cyprus on Thursday had the summit continued as scheduled. In a statement on Monday, European Parliament’s conservative majority leader Manfred Weber urged EU member states to “stay together, unify and send a clear signal to Erdoğan that we want to have a partnership but please stop your aggressive behaviour.” On the same day, EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell said the matter of sanctions had become a contentious issue inside the bloc.

Later on Tuesday evening, Erdoğan spoke with French President Emmanuel Macron on the phone, and stressed that a constructive attitude that encourages dialogue and cooperation with Turkey coming out of the EU leaders summit was “important for the resolution to the region’s issues.”

The Turkish president told his French counterpart that he “could not make sense of France supporting the maximalist claims and steps by Greece and the Southern Cyprus Greek side that have escalated tensions,” and that Turkey “expects a sensible and constructive approach from France.”

Turkey desires dialogue and “sustainable negotiation processes,” Erdoğan told Macron.