Turkish, Greek ministers meet with 'positive agenda'

Turkey's Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, right, and his Greek counterpart Giorgos Katrougalos pose for photos after a news conference in the Mediterranean coastal city of Antalya, Turkey, Thursday, March 21, 2019. Cavusogly says the defense chiefs of Turkey and Greece could meet soon as part of new confidence-building measures aimed at reducing tensions between the NATO allies. (Turkish Foreign Ministry via AP, Pool)

Turkey's foreign minister says the defense chiefs of Turkey and Greece could meet soon as part of new confidence-building measures aimed at reducing tensions between the NATO allies

ANKARA, Turkey — The defense chiefs of Turkey and Greece could soon meet as part of confidence-building measures aimed at reducing tensions between the NATO allies, Turkey's foreign minister said Thursday.

Mevlut Cavusoglu made the announcement during a joint news conference with his Greek counterpart George Katrougalos, who said the two countries were focused on pushing forward "a positive agenda." The two met in the Mediterranean coastal city of Antalya to discuss an array of issues that have strained ties, including divided Cyprus and gas exploration in the eastern Mediterranean.

The exploration issue has added to tensions, particularly after the discovery of gas fields near Cyprus.

Katrougalos noted Greece supported Cyprus' "obvious right to handle the resources" of its exclusive economic zone for the benefit of both the Greek-Cypriot and Turkish-Cypriot communities on the island.

But he added it was "obvious, however, that in the eastern Mediterranean Turkey also has rights, which the law of the sea recognizes."

Turkey strongly objects to gas search efforts off Cyprus, saying it infringes on its rights — as well as those of Turkish Cypriots in the island's breakaway northern region. Turkey, which doesn't recognize Cyprus as a state, says it will carry out drilling of its own soon.

On peace efforts for Cyprus, Cavusoglu said he and Katrougalos would hold a series of informal meetings to see if a new set of peace negotiations for the island is possible.

Greece favors the resumption of peace talks from where they were left off at the Swiss resort of Crans-Montana in 2017. But Cavusoglu ruled that out.

Turkey has also been irritated by Greek courts' decision not to extradite eight servicemen who fled to Greece in a military helicopter soon after a 2016 coup attempt failed. Turkey has put up bounties for their capture.

Cavusoglu again criticized the courts' decision, saying it had encouraged other illegal crossings into Greece.

The Greek minister called for respect of the courts, saying it was up to the judiciary to decide "who is a coup-plotter, who is a terrorist."

Cavusoglu responded: "You know as well as we know that these people were coup-plotters. That night, they escaped to Greece in a military helicopter."

The servicemen deny involvement in the coup attempt.

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