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Wednesday, August 10, 2022

Greek PM voices concern over West’s stance towards Turkey

Neighbours and NATO allies Greece and Turkey are at odds over a series of issues, including territorial disputes and Cyprus.

The Greek prime minister has said he is concerned that Western powers’ response towards Turkish actions is encouraging it to behave in an unacceptable manner.

Kyriakos Mitsotakis’s comments came on Friday after a meeting with outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who was in Athens on a final official visit.

“I fear that Western composure encourages Turkish arbitrary actions, and it is time for European principles to be turned into European policy and mainly into European practices against those who offend it,” he said.

Neighbours and NATO allies Greece and Turkey are at odds over a series of issues, including territorial disputes in the Aegean Sea that divides them, drilling rights in the Eastern Mediterranean and the ethnically-split island of Cyprus.

“No one is seeking a definitive rupture in relations between the European Union and Turkey. It would not be something that would be beneficial to Europe or to Greece or, ultimately, to Turkey,” Mitsotakis said.

Turkey has been an official candidate to join the 27-member EU for more than two decades, but relations with the bloc have also been strained of late.

“I believe that Turkey as a NATO member and Turkey as our neighbour should be treated in such a way that we make it clear that it is in our interest to have reasonable relations with Turkey,” Merkel said. “Even with disagreements that we have, for example, even on human rights issues.”

Germany has stressed in the past that dialogue is key in improving relations with Turkey. Greece insists it is open to dialogue with its neighbour, but that a similar will must exist on both sides. Turkey has also said it is willing to talk, and the two are engaged in a series of low-level confidence-building discussions.

“On the one hand, Greece extends a hand of friendship; on the other, Greece will be the first to defend its sovereignty and its sovereign rights if that feels that they are being violated in any way,” Mitsotakis said.

Simmering tensions

Greece and Turkey almost clashed last year when they 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 has 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 (370km) 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 (19km) from 6 miles (9.5km) in the Aegean.

Mitsotakis said on Friday that Greece would be willing to agree with Turkey on delimiting their respective economic zones at sea.

“My door is always open, but this dialogue presupposes a reduction in unnecessary tensions,” Mitsotakis said.

“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,” he added.

Mitsotakis’s comments drew no immediate reaction from Turkey. Ankara has previously said it is open to discussing maritime delimitation with all countries as long as its rights are respected.

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