Greece should avoid using the EU as a trump card against Turkey and embrace the current positive momentum, Turkey's foreign minister said on Sunday.
"Only Turkey and Greece can solve the outstanding problems, not the EU," Mevlut Cavusoglu said in an interview to Greek daily To Vima.
The foreign minister is on a two-day visit to Greece, with meetings scheduled in Western Thrace and Athens.
Cavusoglu expressed his satisfaction at reviving most of the channels for dialogue.
He said that he is always optimistic about good neighborly relations between Turkey and Greece.
"As two neighbors, we are destined to live in the same geography. Therefore, we should define our relationship with cooperation rather than conflict. It is in our hands to determine our destiny and the way forward," he said.
He stressed the talks he holds in Greece will serve to prepare the ground for a meeting to be held at the NATO Summit between Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, and drew attention to the importance of sustainable constructive dialogue in bilateral relations.
The minister said that Turkey is ready to discuss any controversial issue with Greece.
"However, Greece should give up the 'Map of Seville'. Neither the US nor the EU endorses this map. I must reiterate that it is a mistake made by the Greeks to think that Turkey will be limited to the Aegean and Mediterranean coasts only."
Under the so-called Seville map the small Greek islands near the Turkish shore are seen as having huge continental shelves, supposedly superseding the shelf of the large Turkish mainland.
It represents Greek and Greek Cypriots' maximalist maritime jurisdiction claims in the Eastern Mediterranean, which has no legal validity, and was declared legally invalid both by the US and EU.
- 'Political will on EU side'
Cavusoglu underlined that his country is willing to develop a trust-based positive agenda in Turkey-EU relations.
"Yes, there are grounds for such an agenda. We see political will on the EU side, with the exception of some member states that tend to abuse membership solidarity and veto power," he asserted.
Noting that this momentum should not be lost, Cavusoglu said: "The positive agenda should be based on concrete and meaningful steps that are mutually agreed upon."
Pointing to the need to adopt a more holistic geopolitical perspective on this issue, he said that Turkey's accession to the EU is the "most important geopolitical investment" that the EU can make for Europe and beyond.
- Oruc Reis vessel activities
Cavusoglu highlighted that Turkish seismic research vessel Oruc Reis carries out its activities at locations within the continental shelf of Turkey.
"We are determined to protect the rights of both Turkey and Turkish Cypriots in the face of the unilateral and maximalist claims of Greece and Greek Cypriots."
Recalling their calls for dialogue to alleviate the tense situation in the Eastern Mediterranean, Cavusoglu emphasized that these calls were ignored by Greece.
Ankara has sent several drill ships to explore for energy resources in the Eastern Mediterranean, asserting its own rights in the region, as well as those of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.
Turkey, which has the longest continental coastline in the Eastern Mediterranean, has rejected maritime boundary claims of Greece and the Greek Cypriot administration and stressed that the excessive claims violate the sovereign rights of both Turkey and the Turkish Cypriots.
Noting that the Turkey-Libya agreement on maritime boundaries signed in 2019 was signed by two sovereign states based on international law, Cavusoglu stressed that this agreement was also approved by the Libyan Government of National Accord.
In November 2019, Turkey and Libya signed pacts on security cooperation and maritime boundaries. Turkey has also aided Libya's UN-recognized government against attacks by militias loyal to Libyan warlord Khalifa Haftar.
- Aegean Sea
Cavusoglu stated that they respect the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea and the sovereign rights of each country.
"The Aegean Sea has its own features. The delimitation of the continental shelf and the Exclusive Economic Zone are not the only problems between the two countries. The reality is that in a theoretical situation where we would only confine the continental shelf and the EEZ, we would not be able to solve all the outstanding problems and we would continue to have problems. That's what we want to avoid," he said.
He went on to say that the breadth of territorial waters in the Aegean is a prominent issue, adding that Turkey does not categorically reject territorial waters up to 12 nautical miles "where conditions allow."
The Black Sea or the Ionian Sea is an example of such an approach, he said.
"However, with 12 nautical miles of territorial waters in the Aegean Sea, freedom of navigation will be seriously affected from the outset. We cannot allow such an extension.
"The dispute over the 1923 Lausanne Peace Treaty and the 1947 Peace Treaty over the legal status of islands, islets and reefs and demilitarized Greek islands cannot be isolated or ignored," he added.
"As I said, our ultimate goal is to solve all the problems with Greece and not just save the day, but reach a permanent solution."
- Cyprus issue
Speaking on the Cyprus issue, Cavusoglu said that the vision of the Turkish side is to establish a working relationship between the two states on the Island on the basis of sovereign equality and equal international status.
"We should all learn from the failures of the past. Insisting on old UN Security Council resolutions can only get us into a vicious circle," he said.
He stressed that therefore the parties need to "chart a new path forward" with a realistic, constructive and open-minded approach.
Cyprus has been mired in a decades-long struggle between Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots, despite a series of diplomatic efforts by the UN to achieve a comprehensive settlement.
The island has been divided since 1964, when ethnic attacks forced Turkish Cypriots to withdraw into enclaves for their safety. In 1974, a Greek Cypriot coup aiming at Greece’s annexation led to Turkey’s military intervention as a guarantor power. The TRNC was founded in 1983.
The Greek Cypriot administration, backed by Greece, became a member of the EU in 2004, although most Greek Cypriots rejected a UN settlement plan in a referendum that year, which had envisaged a reunited Cyprus joining the EU.