Greece and Turkey aim to smooth differences, leaders to meet

Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias and his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu attend a news conference at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Athens, Greece, May 31, 2021. REUTERS/Costas Baltas

ATHENS (Reuters) - Greece and Turkey pledged on Monday to smooth differences which erupted into a public spat between their foreign ministers, announcing a meeting between President Tayyip Erdogan and Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis at next month's NATO summit.

The two historic rivals are at odds over many issues from competing territorial claims in the eastern Mediterranean to migrant boats and the status of Cyprus. They came close to armed conflict last year but have been trying to lower tensions.

"We are fully aware of the different, and in some very serious issues, diametrically opposed positions that we have," Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias said following a meeting with his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu in Athens.

"The purpose of today's meeting was to attempt an initial negotiation process and if possible, a gradual normalization of the situation over time."

As recently as Sunday, the two countries traded barbs over the status of the Muslim minority in Greece.

But the ministers were at pains to avoid a repeat of their open argument over sovereignty at a press conference in Ankara last month.

Cavusoglu said Turkey wanted to improve economic ties with Greece and said there had been concrete steps on 25 articles in areas ranging from transport to energy, the environment, tourism and trade.

He also said they had decided to recognise each other's COVID-19 vaccination certificates to permit travel between the countries.

"I would like to say that, as Turkey, we have the will for these actions and I am happy to see the same will from Greece," he said.

He said Erdogan and Mitsotakis were planning to meet at the NATO summit in Brussels on June 14.

(Reporting by Lefteris Papadimas and James Mackenzie and Tuvan Gumrukcu and Ali Kucukgocmen in Ankara)

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