ANKARA - With tension already high over Turkey’s plans to drill for oil and gas off Greek islands, the ante has been upped with Turkey again calling for the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne that set borders between the countries to be renegotiated.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has long said he wants the return of Greek islands ceded away under that agreement after the final defeat of the Ottoman Empire, a still embarrassing moment for Turkey.
Now - even as Turkey said it was open to dialogue if Greece made concessions - Energy Minister Fatih Donmez said the treaty should be redone, suggesting for the benefit only of his country.
“With the First World War and the wars that followed, there were some conditions that are not clear and perhaps these laid the foundations of today’s discussions. One of them is Lausanne. But 100 years have passed, I believe that we can sit down to discuss them, to negotiate,” he told Turkey’s Kanal 7 TV.
In an interview with the station he said the trouble between the countries was all Greece’s fault although Turkey had signed a maritime deal with Libya dividing the seas between them, claiming waters off Greek islands.
“If you see what Greece supports, it is like trapping us on our shores. With God’s help, they will give up their mistakes as soon as possible,” he said, indicating while Turkey won’t breach land borders it doesn’t want sea borders.
Erdogan has vowed to defend the sovereign rights of Turkey from space to the Blue Homeland – a large area in the Mediterranean over which Turkey believes it should wield influence, noted Kathimerini.
“We are building a strong deterrent infrastructure. As part of our goal of becoming a technology-driven country, from the Blue Homeland to cyberspace and space, we will defend our sovereign rights in every field,” he said.
New Democracy government spokesman Stelios Petsas said that Greece is ready to resume exploratory talks that broke off in 2016 but only on condition that Turkey stop provocations - which Turkey blamed on Greece.
Turkey’s Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said Greece was “afraid” of exploratory talks between the two sides. An earlier round set for Ankara - not Athens - to discuss boundaries in the Aegean and Mediterranean was canceled by Erdogan after Greece made a maritime deal with Egypt.
Referring to the prospect of exploratory contacts and the delineation of maritime zones, Akar said: “We say ‘yes’ to all that, but the Greek side is not willing (to engage in talks,) Why? Because they are reluctant, they are afraid. Why are they afraid? Because they are not right. We are right, and this is why we are (too) strong for them,” in another taunt.
Like Erdogan and Donmez, he blamed Greece. “Why are they doing this? Because they do not rely on themselves, but on those (standing) behind them,” he said in reference to the country’s European Union partners.
“But they should not invest so much hope in them,” he added after that was already borne out when EU leaders at a Dec. 10-11 meeting, reluctant to confront Erdogan, backed off Greece’s demand for sanctions until March, 2021.
Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Turkey’s plans to continue hunting for oil and gas in Greek waters, including off Crete where the US Navy has a base on Souda Bay, showed it won’t back down after Erdogan said any sanctions would be meaningless and not stop him.
“In the Eastern Mediterranean, we raised our flag with the Oruc Reis, the Barbaros and the Yavuz, and we showed that nothing can happen in the area that does not involve us,” Cavusoglu told a foreign policy evaluation meeting for 2020 in Ankara.
“We showed our enemies and our friends what we are capable of,” he said, reported the newspaper in his reference to Turkish energy research vessels, including already operating off Cyprus.
Akar warned Greece that beefing up its arsenal, including plans to buy US-made F-35 fighter jets denied Turkey for buying a Russian-made S-400 missile defense system offered no protection.
“You can buy as many aircraft, submarines and ships as you like; it won’t be enough,” he said, Greece also buying French-made Rafale fighter jets and plans to acquire French frigates to add to the naval warships fleet.
The Turkish Air Force has 233 American-made F-16s to Greece’s 154, as well as dozens of French Mirages and the Rafales that will start arriving in 202, France and Germany continuing to arm Turkey while backing Greece.
In Greece, a Presidential decree closing bays and drawing straight baselines in the Ionian Sea and around islands there to Cape Tainaro in the Peloponnese entered into force through its publication in the Government Gazette.
The move was described as a necessary step in the process of extending Greece’s western territorial waters, the government also considering widening the boundaries in the Aegean and East Mediterranean from six to 12 miles.
The Foreign Ministry said the decree was issued under a law ratifying the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea which Turkey doesn’t recognize unless invoking in its favor.
“The Presidential Decree highlights that Greece reserves the right, as deriving from the Convention on the Law of the Sea, which reflects international customary law,” it added.