Athens, Greece – Greece and Turkey are edging gradually toward the relaunch of exploratory contacts, which stalled in 2016, with both sides confirming on Tuesday that a new round of talks would take place soon though there is skepticism in Greece about Turkey’s true intentions.

In a brief statement on Tuesday night, Greece’s Foreign Ministry said exploratory contacts would begin “soon” in Istanbul. Although an announcement regarding the resumption of talks had been expected this week, with an initial meeting expected next week, no date was confirmed. Greece’s delegation is to be headed by experienced diplomat and ambassador Pavlos Apostolidis while Turkey’s remains to be finalized.

The Greek ministry’s announcement came shortly after the Turkish presidency said that the two countries had agreed to resume talks on maritime claims in the Eastern Mediterranean and Aegean, following a call between President Erdogan, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and European Council President Charles Michel. Erdogan was quoted as saying that the “partial momentum” secured by establishing dialogue should be maintained with reciprocal steps.

There are concerns in Greece that Erdogan appears determined for a range of issues to be broached in the exploratory contacts – way over and above confidence-building measures and de-escalation tactics.

This was thrown into sharp focus as Turkey on Tuesday issued a new navigational advisory, or Navtex reserving the sea area around the Greek island of Lemnos, calling for its demilitarization and citing alleged violations under the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne.

Erdogan also called for a regional conference with all Mediterranean coastal states which, he said, should include the TRNC. He also said that relations between Turkey and the EU could be improved if certain steps are taken on a customs union between the two sides, visa-free travel for Turks and the migration issue.

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis spoke by telephone with the GCA President Nicos Anastasiades on Tuesday ahead of an EU leaders’ summit about Turkey’s oil and gas exploration activities in the Eastern Mediterranean which had been due to take place later this week but was postponed to October 1-2 after an aide to Michel tested positive for Covid-19.

Government spokesman Stelios Petras said Wednesday a relaunch of exploratory talks between Greece and Turkey would be “a welcome step,” however adding that the European Union has already decided to impose sanctions on Turkey over its illegal activity in the Eastern Mediterranean.

“The question is how will these sanctions be activated if Turkey does not comply given that Europe is not used to fast procedures,” Petsas told state broadcaster ERT.

The spokesman did not rule out a telephone call between Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan ahead of the European Council meeting, now rescheduled for October 1-2.

“Everything is on the table,” Petsas said.

Greece and Turkey both confirmed on Tuesday that a new round of talks would take place soon though there is skepticism in Greece about Turkey’s true intentions.