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Greece says talks with Turkey on East Med could restart soon

Greece and Turkey are close to reviving talks on long-standing maritime disputes following a tense standoff over rights to exploit potential offshore natural gas deposits in the eastern Mediterranean, a Greek official said Monday.

“We are close to restarting the exploratory talks," Greek government spokesman Stelios Petsas told reporters. "There will be an announcement when this is finalized but the atmosphere is good.”

Petsas also confirmed local media reports that U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is expected to visit Greece for a meeting with Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis to discuss the crisis, but said the schedule is still being worked out.

The two neighboring NATO members have been at odds for decades over maritime boundaries for commercial exploitation in the Aegean Sea, as well as in an area of the eastern Mediterranean between Turkey’s southern coast, several Greek islands and the war-divided island of Cyprus.

Under international pressure, Turkey pulled back a research vessel in the area while both countries have also eased their naval presence and halted military exercises.

Greek-Turkish talks on maritime boundaries were last held in 2016. In recent years, the dispute has been fueled by soured relations between the EU and Turkey and well as the discoveries of large natural gas fields in other parts of the eastern Mediterranean.

Turkey argues that Greek islands near its coastline should be excluded from the calculation of commercial maritime boundaries that far exceed the limits of territorial waters.

Athens calls the Turkish position a violation of international law, but says it is willing to settle the dispute at an international court.

In Turkey, Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said his country backs dialogue with Greece but would not shy away from defending its rights.

“We are for peace, stability, negotiation and dialogue. We support them, but we would not allow any fait accompli,” Akar said in a video conference with Turkish military commanders.

The minister also said Turkish and Greek teams would hold a fifth round of talks at the NATO headquarters on Tuesday aimed at preventing accidents or armed conflict between the two allies.

Separately, Turkish prosecutors launched an investigation into a Greek right-wing newspaper, Dimokratia, over a front-page headline last week that used an obscene expression in Turkish against Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The investigation, triggered by a formal complaint by Erdogan’s lawyers Monday, could lead to a court case in Turkey against the newspaper's journalists.

Last week, the Turkish Foreign Ministry summoned Greece’s ambassador over the incident. The Greek foreign ministry condemned the headline, while stressing that Greece respects freedom of the press.

Thousands of people have been convicted for insulting the president, which is a crime in Turkey.