ATHENS – While calling on the European Union to sanction Turkey over plans to hunt for energy around Greek islands, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis’ New Democracy government said it’s willing to talk about delimiting their respective Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ’s.)
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, apparently emboldened by the EU’s reluctance to take him on, had shifted from belligerence to diplomacy during the summer as part of an agreement with Greece not to interrupt tourism.
But he said he would, at any rate, authorize Turkish energy research vessels to look for oil and gas in the Aegean and East Mediterranean in waters he considered disputed, with his ships long drilling off Cyprus.
While offering a softer tone, Greece’s government urged Turkey to ratchet down the tension, an approach that has consistently failed to sway Erdogan from a path of confrontation, with fears it could bring a conflict.
The two are members of NATO but the defense alliance has refused to intervene over repeated Turkish violations of Greek airspace and waters and Erdogan’s energy drilling plans.
“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 realize that such an approach would be eventually beneficial to both countries,” Mitsotakis said, the Reuters news agency reported.
Turkey’s Foreign Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment although earlier saying – repeatedly – it was open to talking about maritime delimitation as long as its rights were respected.
Adding to the brouhaha has been Turkey’s defiance of soft EU sanctions while continuing to claim parts of Cyprus’ EEZ where the legitimate government – a member of the bloc that Turkey has been trying to join since 2005.
Offshore EEZ’s are maritime areas agreed between neighboring 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, the news agency noted.
Greece and Turkey can’t agree on what those are, however, and Turkey, under a so-called Blue Homeland doctrine, is claiming most of the seas, also including those under an agreement with Libya dividing the waters between them, clouding the boundaries of declared continental shelves.
The dispute has held up any declaration by Greece to extend its territorial waters to 12 miles from 6 in the Aegean, backing down from Turkey’s warning it would be cause for a conflict.
The two countries re-launched exploratory informal contacts on their disputes early this year for the 62nd time, which, like the others, failed to be more than an informal chit-chat, resolving nothing.