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Politics

Greece Girds For Anything, But Not Taking Turkey’s Battle Bait

September 7, 2020

ATHENS – Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has decided to ignore increasingly belligerent rhetoric from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan who said there could be a military response if Greece won't negotiate the rights to the seas around Greek islands.

The New Democracy leader has decided that's the approach to take for now, said Kathimerini, as he awaits whether the European Union will issue sanctions against Turkey as he requested.

That decision will likely come at a Sept. 24-25 showdown meeting with Turkey, the bloc's leaders warning Erdogan to pull out an energy research vessel and warships near the Greek island of Kastellorizo where Turkey plans to hunt for oil and gas, shadowed by Greek Navy warships.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who earlier convinced Erdogan to pull his ships out, is tying to act as a broker again after he sent them back in when Greece made a seas boundaries deal with Egypt.

That was in response to Turkey making a maritime deal with Libya dividing the waters between them, and claiming seas around Greek islands, including off Crete where Erdogan said drilling would be done as well.

That has put the NATO colleagues at odds with each and at a near-conflict point, leading the defense alliance, which had stayed away from the fray, trying to mediate a resolution but failing.

Erdogan canceled planned talks in Ankara with Greek officials after the Egypt deal and has alternated since then between offering dialogue and threatening a conflict, with a German newspaper reporting he wanted a Greek warship sunk.

Mitsotakis has pulled back from his insistence on sanctions to say he's open to diplomacy but Erdogan said talks would be based on Greece making concessions so that Turkey has rights to waters around Greek islands.

The next critical date is Sept. 12 when a Turkish navigational advisory (NAVTEX) will expire unless extended, with the energy research vessel Oruc Reis and Turkish warships still hovering around Kastellorizo.

If the NAVTEX is extended and the Turkish ships enter clearly demarcated Greek waters, it will be clear that Erdogan has deliberately chosen a conflict between the countries, said the newspaper, which could engulf the region.

Greece also expects that the Turkish Energy Ministry may grant exploratory licenses to the state-run Turkish Petroleum Corporation (TPAO) to go into waters marked out with in the Libya deal that could bring Turkish ships off the Greek islands of Rhodes, Kassos, Karpathos and Crete.

The TPAO is also operating in Cypriot waters, undeterred by soft EU sanctions that apparently have emboldened Erdogan to become more provocative in the East Mediterranean and Aegean, not seeing a hard line drawn against him.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urged ratcheting down the tension and US President Donald Trump spoke on the phone with Erdogan and twice with Mitsotakis but got nowhere either in the dilemma.

If a conflict is avoided and talks begin, Turkey wants them to include not just rights to the seas but other issues, such as the rights of the Turkish minority in northern Greece but Athens ruled that out.

In the meantime, Greece is looking to upgrade its defenses and add weapons, including fighter jets from France which has allied itself with Greece, as has Israel, Cyprus, the Palestinian Authority and the United Arab Emirates.

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