ATHENS — Showing that diplomacy with Turkey isn't working despite a recent cooling of tensions after a visit to Athens from Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, Greece is said to mulling asking for sanctions again and US President Joe Biden will speak with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan about it when they talk at a NATO meeting June 14.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing that the President won't shy away from confronting Erdogan about Turkish provocations that include plans to hunt for energy around Greek islands as it's doing off Cyprus' coast.
Responding to a question by New Jersey Democratic Senator Bob Menendez, Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, Blinken said he too was anxious about Turkey's behavior, which he called “deeply disturbing,” said Kathimerini.
“Our differences with Turkey… are no secret,” Blinken said. “In many aspects it is not acting as the NATO ally it should be, not the least of which with the acquisition of the S400s from Russia,” he said, referring to Turkey getting missile defenses from Moscow.
Blinken added that the US was “pleased” to see Turkey pulling back from some of its activities in the region, “including removing its ships from waters that Cyprus considers to be part of its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and stopping the drilling.”
Erdogan has done that before only to send them back in again – as he did off the Greek island of Kastellorizo – until tension subsides so Turkey can avoid any sanctions.
Menendez, a friend of the Greek-American community, ripped Turkey, a NATO ally, for drifting away from the West “on all the core principles that we believe in.”
“Turkey is constantly violating – from my perspective – international law when it seeks to threaten Cyprus in its EEZ, when it declares an economic zone going to Libya that is not recognized at all but it interferes with Greece’s EEZ,” Menendez said.
Erdogan and Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis are due to meet as well on the sidelines of the NATO meeting in Brussels, the Turkish leader throwing oil the fire when he said Turkey was ready to defend territories once held by the Ottomans.
He added that recent military exercises in the Aegean had Greece… an "enemy" state as he put it …both scared and worried of Turkey’s capabilities to do so, The Voice of America said in a report.
That led to Greece denouncing what it called “hostile” and “provocative threats” and that it would consider again asking for sanctions, no idea what that would do to the Erdogan-Mitsotakis moment at NATO.
Repeating a demand Greece has repeatedly rejected, Turkey wants Greek troops taken off Greek islands near Turkey's coast, especially those that Turkey wants returned, refusing to accept the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne that set borders.
But Turkey's Defense Minister Hulusi Akar then invoked that pact to insist that Greece must demilitarize the islands that Turkey cited, despite fears that it would leave them defenseless and easier to seize in a conflict or invasion.
“We (base our demand) on international law. What does the Treaty of Lausanne say? They cannot militarize the islands. As you can see, they have done so,” Akar said in an interview with Hurriyet newspaper.
“Where is the justice in this?,” Akar also said. “We are only defending our rights,” he said, basing those on treaties Turkey doesn't accept unless using to only its advantage, including the United Nations Law of the Sea being ignored as Turkey steps up claims to waters around Greek islands where it wants to hunt for energy.
That talk, a few days after the two countries foreign ministers talked nice at a meeting in Athens and said they wanted diplomacy and to ratchet down the tension, stepped up the anxiety again, with Greece warning it push for European Union sanctions.
There's no sign Greece will be backed by the EU beyond tweets of support because Germany, home to 2.774 million people of Turkish heritage and a major arms supplier to Turkey, has blocked any penalties for Turkish provocations.
Akar didn't mention that the same treaty gave those islands to Greece, with Erdogan openly admitting he covets their return because some are within shouting distance of Turkey's coastline.
Akar also criticized Greece for claiming a 6-mile area of territorial sea and a 10-mile column of airspace, both regularly violated by Turkish fighters jets and warships with no intervention from NATO, the defense alliance to which both belong.
Akar later called on Greece to obey international laws that Turkey doesn't and to take troops and missiles off Greek islands, which would remove a critical line of defense if Turkey makes a move on them.
Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias, who had talked sweetly with Cavasoglu in Athens – after lashing out at him in and earlier meeting in Ankara- talked tough again after Erdogan's bluster.
Dendias said Greece has long supported Turkey’s bid to join the European Union, which is going backwards 16 years after it began with Erdogan purging civil society, the military, courts, education system and jailing journalists by the dozen after a failed coup attempt against him in July, 2016.
Dendias said if Turkey doesn't watch its language that Greece could again call for sanctions after withdrawing them in favor of diplomacy which keeps failing as Erdogan plays a kind of political yo-yo.
Mitsotakis said, "What we are seeing in the last weeks in a sort of kinetic energy from both sides to talk to each other. So, they are prepared to talk to each other at the highest political level. But this does not mean that the talks will yield results,” said the Voice of America.