ENERGY: Greece defends Cyprus explorations but agrees Turkey has rights in East Med

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Greece has defended Cyprus’ right to exploit its natural resources while also acknowledging that Turkey also has rights in the East Mediterranean.

Energy and Cyprus talks were on the agenda during a meeting of Turkish foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu 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 off Cyprus.

Katrougalos said Greece supported Cyprus' "self-evident 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."

On the issue of gas exploration, Cavusoglu noted that "no project is realistic without the participation of Turkey," and thanked Katrougalos for noting that Turkey should not be excluded.

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 around the island.

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

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

Katrougalos, who was in Cyprus earlier this week, expressed the hope that Greece and Turkey can boost understanding and ease tensions.

"The two countries can offer an example of peaceful coexistence with respect for the rules of international law," Katrougalos.

"We do not believe in war between peoples," Greece's top diplomat said, expressing his hope in the beginning of a "period of better understanding, the de-escalation of tension and the promotion of dialogue."

He also reiterated Greece's support for Turkey's European Union accession prospects, saying that it was in the interests of the EU, the Turkish people and Greece to have "a friendly European Turkey on our eastern border."

More meetings are planned for the coming weeks, Cavusoglu said, adding that he would visit Greece on April 12 after local elections in Turkey this month.