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ATHENS (Reuters) - Greece said it would be willing to agree with Turkey on demlimiting their respective economic zones at sea, urging its neighbour to tone down what it said were tensions harming Ankara's ties with the EU.
The two neighbours, allies in NATO, are at odds over a number of issues from commercial rights in the Aegean to territorial waters and the ethnically-split island of Cyprus.
"My door is always open, but this dialogue presupposes a reduction in unnecessary tensions," Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said after meeting German Acting Chancellor Angela Merkel who was visiting Athens.
"Greece has signed agreements defining exclusive economic zones with neighbouring countries like Italy, Egypt. There is no reason why we cannot do it with Turkey, provided that the tensions be toned down, and realise that such an approach would be eventually beneficial to both countries," Mitsotakis said.
Turkey’s foreign ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Ankara has said it is open to discussing maritime delimitation with all countries as long as its rights are respected.
Greece and Turkey almost clashed last year when each sent out warships to sea regions they considered their own. Although those scenes have not been repeated, the two countries regularly snipe over Cyprus, against which Turkey has mounted a consistent challenge to stop the east Mediterranean island exploring offshore for oil and gas.
Cyprus's internationally-recognised Greek Cypriot government have issued licences for offshore oil and gas exploration, a move that Turkey says disregards the rights of the island's Turkish Cypriot community.
Offshore exclusive economic zones are maritime areas agreed between neighbouring states, defining where a country has commercial rights such as the right to explore for hydrocarbons. Those zones can extend to up to 200 nautical miles from a shoreline, or, if sharing the sea area with another state, the equidistance between the two.
But in the case of Greece and Turkey, the issue is complicated by disputes over the extent of their continental shelves and the limit of their territorial waters. The dispute has held up any declaration by Greece to extend its territorial waters to 12 miles from 6 in the Aegean.
The two countries re-launched exploratory informal contacts on their disputes early this year.
(Reporting by Lefteris Papadimas; Additional reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)