Greece and Turkey are set to hold talks at NATO aimed at preventing clashes in the eastern Mediterranean, where they are at odds over maritime borders and gas exploration rights.

Tensions are running high over Turkey’s drilling activities, which Greece and Cyprus say violate their sovereignty, and both sides have deployed warships in a show of force, raising fears of conflict erupting by accident.  

The two NATO allies have now agreed to get together to discuss ways to avoid an armed confrontation, alliance chief Jens Stoltenberg said.  

“Following my discussions with Greek and Turkish leaders, the two allies have agreed to enter into technical talks at NATO to establish mechanisms for military de-confliction to reduce the risk of incidents and accidents in the eastern Mediterranean,” he said in a statement on Thursday. 

“Greece and Turkey are valued allies, and NATO is an important platform for consultations on all issues that affect our shared security.”

With the talks set to be of a technical military nature, they are unlikely to bring a complete solution to the complex, long-running rivalry between Greece and Turkey.

But observers hope they will at least offer an opening for further dialogue. 

The decision to hold talks comes after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urged the two sides to reduce tensions and open diplomatic channels to ease the crisis.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan struck a defiant tone this week, extending the gas exploration mission and saying Ankara would not be intimidated by Greece’s support from European military powers such as France.  

Large reserves of natural gas are believed to be located in the eastern Mediterranean, which Turkey is exploring in maritime areas claimed by Cyprus or Greece. 

Ankara sent out drillships to explore for energy on its continental shelf, saying it and the self-declared Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) have hydrocarbon exploration rights in the region.

Greece has disputed Turkey’s current energy activities in the eastern Mediterranean, trying to box in Turkish maritime territory based on small Greek islands near the Turkish coast.

The European Union has been watching the escalating dispute with growing concern, with Germany spearheading efforts to get the sides to temper the rhetoric and settle their differences through talks.  

The EU has repeatedly urged Turkey to stop its exploration activities and threatened to slap sanctions on Ankara if it refused to solve the dispute through dialogue.

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