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Turkish and Greek defense ministers meet amid renewed tensions

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ANKARA, Turkey (AP) Turkish and Greek defense ministers met Thursday on the sidelines of a NATO meeting amid renewed tensions between the two neighbors, the Turkish Defense Ministry said.

The discussion in Brussels between Turks Hulusi Akar and Nikos Panagiotopoulos of Greece focused on the importance of continuing dialogue in order to reduce tensions, according to a statement from the ministry.

They discussed the need to keep communication channels open, focus on a positive agenda and bilateral and regional cooperation, according to the statement.

The meeting comes amid a further escalation of tensions between NATO allies who have a history of disputes over a range of issues such as mineral exploration in the eastern Mediterranean and rival claims in the Aegean Sea.

Last week Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned Greece to demilitarize the Aegean islands, saying he was not kidding. He spoke at Turkish war games near the Greek islands which included an amphibious landing scenario.

Ankara claims Athens has built a military presence on the islands in violation of treaties under which they were ceded to Greece in the 20th century after a long period of occupation by the Turks or by Italy in the case of Rhodes and Kos.

Greece counters that the islands need defenses given war threats from Turkey, which has NATO’s second-largest army and maintains a large landing fleet on its Aegean coast.

Greek public television said Panagiotopoulos spoke briefly with Akar after they stood next to each other for a photo of NATO leaders. He quoted Panagiotopoulos telling Akar: We cannot move forward if you continue with this rhetoric and these policies.

Giannis Oikonomou, the Greek government spokesman, said Thursday that Greece had no intention of engaging in a way that would escalate tension in the region.

This week, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis sought to reassure his compatriots, saying that despite strong rhetoric from Turkey, relations are not at 2020 lows when neighboring warships follow each other in the eastern Mediterranean.

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