Greece's Foreign Minister Giorgos Katrougalos ruled out the exclusion of Turkey in energy-related issues in the Eastern Mediterranean area.
In an exclusive interview with Anadolu Agency ahead of his visit to Turkey on Thursday, the minister asserted that Turkey could not be excluded in the disputed region nor could anyone say anything to this effect.
"How can one exclude Turkey from an area in which it has a coastal line of many kilometers?" Katrougalos said.
The minister said his country supports the rights of the Greek Cypriots in its own Exclusive Economic Zone, an area in which Turkey has consistently contested the unilateral drilling conducted by the Greek Cyprus side, and vehemently declared the rights of the Turkish Cypriots to the resources in the area.
However, while defending the Greek Cypriots' rights, he added that "of course that doesn't signify a monopoly over the whole Eastern Mediterranean area".
Katrougalos also explained they are testing the waters to see if it is possible to resume the failed negotiations between all parties to Cyprus, which dated back from 2017, with the aim of reuniting the divided island.
"We want the negotiations to begin. But they should be negotiations that have a chance of reaching an agreement, and not just for the sake of negotiating. We are committed to this because we want a solution for the Cyprus issue," he stressed.
Greek, Israeli and Greek Cypriot leaders are meeting on Wednesday in Jerusalem, with the anticipated participation of U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, for their trilateral summit focusing on a pipeline project that plans to transfer natural gas to Europe through Greece.
Cyprus has been divided since 1974 when a Greek Cypriot coup was followed by violence against the island's Turks and Ankara's intervention as a guarantor power.
The island has seen an on-and-off peace process in recent years, including the collapse of a 2017 initiative in Switzerland under the auspices of guarantor countries Turkey, Greece and the U.K.
The two neighboring countries disputes continue over the Aegean region in the attempted expansion of Greece's territorial waters and the sharing of the region's energy resources, the latest chapter of which surfaced when the former Greek Foreign Minister announced the country's plans to expand its territorial waters starting from the Ionian coast.
"We have decided to expand our territorial waters in the Ionian Sea because it is part of our effort to delimit our EEZ [Exclusive Economic Zone] with Italy and Albania. We consider that it is our inalienable sovereign right to expand our territorial waters in other areas," Katrougalos said.
He explained that move was borne from "a practical and immediate reason" to begin from the west part of the country.
"Regarding the Aegean, it is true that we want both sides [Greeks and Turks] to de-escalate the tension that has been built in the recent period," the minister said.
The top Greek diplomat said that he, along with his Turkish counterpart, is working closely to build confidence and "to begin serious discussions on issues such as the delimitation of our continental shelf".
"We on both sides must confirm our commitment to de-escalate the tension. I am sure that this will happen, and I am sure about the sincerity of our discussions," he said.
Commenting on the latest vote taken on the European Parliament's Turkey report regarding the suspension of European Union (EU) accession talks, Katrougalos said that Greece supports Turkey in its membership bid.
"... We want to keep alive the European perspective of Turkey. We consider it is not only in the interest of the Turkish people but also for Europe and for Greece.
He stressed the importance of Turkey’s inclusion in the EU for Europe's identity and its vision for the future.
"While taking as a prerequisite the respect of the European acquis, democracy and human rights, that the door of our European perspective must be open for Turkey," he said.
By Furkan Naci Dogan in Athens, Greece