ATHENS — Signaling that diplomacy has failed, Turkey won't discuss Aegean and East Mediterranean maritime zones with Greece, which is trying to build an international alliance against Turkey's plans to drill for energy in around Greek islands.
After Greek Prime Minister and New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis pulled back demands for sanctions before a European Union meeting with the Turkish side, Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan sent an energy research vessel and warships near the Greek island of Kastellorizo.
Since then, the EU has said it won't react until the end of the year in hopes there can be a resolution between the countries but Turkey said it won't engage in negotiations with pre-set conditions and wants the talks expanded to other issues such as rights for a Turkish minority in northern Greece and demilitarization of Greek islands near Turkey's coast.
Even a Greek offer of aid to Turkey after an earthquake hit Izmir, as well as the nearby Greek island of Samos, hasn't led to Erdogan going beyond a courtesy thank you to pull back his stance.
Greece already had the support of France, Israel and Egypt and Kathimerini said that Mitsotais is not reaching out to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and India to form a trilateral cooperation scheme.
That could see the UAE join the so-called 3+1 format with Greece, Cyprus, Israel – with US support, Mitsotakis seizing the moment after Israel and the UAE, pushed by Washington, normalized diplomatic relations.
Greece had already signed a maritime deal with Egypt, a counter move to Turkey making a deal with Libya to divide the seas between them, leading to Turkish claims of Greek waters, including off Rhodes and Crete.
There will be a meeting of Greek, Egyptian and Cypriot defense ministers on Nov. 12 where the issue will reportedly be discussed and Greece is uprading its military arsenal.
Defense Minister Nikos Panagiotopoulos signed a 112-million-euro ($130.24 million) contract with Germany – which is also arming Turkey – to procure and upgrade submarine torpedoes, one of Greece's best weapons in a conflict.
Turkey dismissed Greece's objections to the energy hunt by the research vessel the Oruc Reis near Kastellorizo where warships from the Greek and Turkish navies are shadowing each other.
Turkey has extended a NAVTEX, a navigational warning to other ships to steer clear of the area where the Oruc Reis plans to operate until Nov. 14, undeterred by Greece or the EU or NATO, the defense alliance to which both countries belong.
Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman Hami Aksoy denounced Greece’s “baseless claims,” adding that exploration was being carried out within Turkey’s own continental shelf, under the deal with Libya no other country accepts.
“It is a futile effort by Greece to voice its objections to our activities by asserting its maximalist claims after each and every Navtex announcement. Turkey will continue its activities in the region within the framework of its rights stemming from international law,” Aksoy said.
Then he turned around and said Turkey was ready to cooperate with Greece and to settle differences between the two countries “through dialogue,” but on terms set by Turkey which wants only Greece to make concessions.
“Needless to say, we will continue to protect the legitimate rights and interests of Turkey and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus with determination,” he said, the name Turkey uses to identify the occupied northern third of the island seized in an unlawful 1974 invasion.
Turkey is already drilling in Cypriot waters, ignoring soft EU sanctions, Erdogan apparently emboldened he's facing only tweets and press releases of denunciations for his moves.
Aksoy also advised Greece not to escalate the confrontation that was brought by Turkish provocations, saying Mitsotakis should instead help “create a suitable atmosphere for negotiations.”
“We hereby invite Greece, once again, to dialogue with Turkey in order to address both the issue of maritime jurisdiction areas in the Eastern Mediterranean and other interrelated issues between the two countries, without preconditions,” he said. There was no answer from Greece.