Brussels, Belgium – The defense ministers of Greece and Turkey met Thursday on the sidelines of a NATO meeting amid renewed tensions between the neighboring countries and allies, Turkey’s defense ministry said.
The discussion in Brussels between Turkey’s Hulusi Akar and Nikos Panagiotopoulos of Greece focused on the “importance of continuing the dialogue in order to reduce tensions,” according to a ministry statement.
They discussed the need to keep channels of communication open, to focus on a positive agenda and bilateral and regional cooperation, according to the statement.
Turkey and Greece have a history of disputes over a range of issues, such as mineral exploration in the eastern Mediterranean and rival claims in the Aegean Sea.
Last week, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned Greece to demilitarize its islands in the Aegean, saying he was “not joking.” He spoke during Turkish military exercises near the islands, including an amphibious landing scenario.
Turkey says Greece has built a military presence on the Aegean islands in violation of 20th century treaties that ceded the islands to Greece after a long period of occupation by Italy.
Greece counters that the islands need defenses given threats of war from Turkey, which has NATO’s second-biggest military and maintains a large landing fleet on its Aegean coast.
Greece’s state-run television said Panagiotopoulos spoke briefly with Akar after they stood next to each other for a photo of the NATO leaders. It quoted Panagiotopoulos as telling Akar: “We can’t move forward if you continue with this rhetoric and these policies.”
Greek government spokesman Giannis Oikonomou said Thursday: “Greece has no intention of engaging in any way that would heighten the tension in the region.”
Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis sought to reassure his compatriots this week. He said that despite strong rhetoric from Turkey, relations are not as low as they were in 2020, when the neighbors’ warships shadowed each other in the eastern Mediterranean.