After weeks of tensions in the eastern Mediterranean, Greece and Turkey have signalled a willingness to start talks aimed at resolving a long-standing sea dispute tied to potentially lucrative offshore gas deposits.
Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis welcomed the return of a Turkish survey ship to port on Sunday from a disputed maritime area at the heart of the summer standoff between the countries over energy rights.
Mr Mitsotakis said he is ready to try to restart long-stalled talks, suggesting the two countries could be inching toward negotiations after weeks of increasingly bellicose rhetoric.
Exploratory talks between Greece and Turkey over the continental shelf and exclusive economic zone rights were last held in 2016.
The Oruc Reis research ship returned to near the southern port of Antalya for the first time in more than a month after Turkey announced in July it was dispatching a vessel to work in waters where Greece claims jurisdiction.
“This is a positive first step,” Mr Mitsotakis told reporters in the northern Greek city of Thessaloniki.
“If we see signs of deescalation in practice … I will be the first to sit at the negotiating table.”
The deployment of the research vessel triggered a military build-up in the eastern Mediterranean.
Nominal Nato allies Turkey and Greece both dispatched warships to the area where the Oruc Reis was engaged in seismic research and conducted military exercises to assert their claims.
“In areas where there is no maritime delimitation there can be no unilateral actions, and that has been what Turkey has been doing in recent weeks,” Mr Mitsotakis said.
Nato intervened, organising talks between the two countries to prevent a potential conflict.
Turkey was also under increasing international pressure to withdraw the survey ship, with the threat of European Union sanctions looming.
It argues Greek islands close to its coastline should not project maritime zones for oil and gas exploitation, a view not shared by most Western allies.
Although the dispute is decades old, huge offshore natural gas sites discovered in recent years have intensified it.
“Natural gas has changed the geopolitical dynamics of the eastern Mediterranean maritime boundary disputes,” Michael Tanchum, a senior fellow at the Austrian Institute for European and Security Policy, said.
“Turkey views its future political and economic influence across the entire Mediterranean region and in Africa as being at stake.”
Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar said on Sunday that it supports peace and dialogue “if our wishes and demands are fulfilled”.