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Erdoğan says Turkey-Greece might find common ground despite disputes

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Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, prior to a visit to Athens on Dec. 7, has signaled Turkey’s willingness to improve relations with neighboring Greece despite long-standing disagreements, the state-run Anadolu news agency reported.

Erdoğan, who spoke at a meeting of his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) in Ankara on Wednesday, said it was normal for countries to have disputes between each other but that the important thing is to show determination to resolve the problems before they become impossible to remedy.

“We had disputes with Greece in the past and will have them in the future. This doesn’t mean that we, two neighboring countries sharing the same sea, climate and geography, will not find common ground,” Erdoğan said, adding that his visit will help open a new page in the countries’ bilateral relations.

Erdoğan, who will be accompanied by ministers, will travel to Athens to attend a meeting of the Greece-Turkey High-level Cooperation Council (HLCC), which will take place after a seven-year hiatus during which tensions in Greek-Turkish relations ran high.

The HLCC was inaugurated in 2010 during a visit of then-prime minister Erdoğan to Athens to promote economic, trade and business cooperation between Greece and Turkey. Subsequent meetings were held in 2013, 2014 and 2016.

Erdoğan will meet with Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis during his visit.

Following years of tension, Greece and Turkey decided to de-escalate and seek a “reset” in relations after both Erdoğan and Mitsotakis managed to be re-elected earlier this year.

The two leaders met on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly at the end of September.

The two NATO members have had troubled relations dating back to the establishment of the modern Turkish republic on the ashes of the Ottoman Empire a century ago.

They have long-standing disputes over exploratory drilling rights in the eastern Mediterranean and the divided island of Cyprus as well as rival claims over the Aegean Sea.

Greece also frequently accuses Turkey of waving through migrants from across their joint border and at sea.

Ankara in turn accuses Athens of being engaged in illegal pushbacks of migrant boats.

Although their relations have been strained, Greece was one of the first countries to send a rescue team in the wake of two major earthquakes in February that hit southeastern Turkey, claiming more than 50,000 lives.

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