Greece, Turkey Keep Swapping Verbal Shots Over Seas Duel

Αssociated Press

(Turkish Defense Ministry via AP, Pool)

ATHENS - While ratcheted down, there is still tension between Greece and Turkey over who has rights to the Aegean and East Mediterranean as both sides continue claims and blame each other for provocations.

After Greece issued a Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) reserving large areas of those seas for military exercises, Turkey responded by urging a further calming of the jitters being created with both having conducted games.

"We see that Greece continues her provocative and escalatory steps in the region," Hami Aksoy, the Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesperson, said in a statement, reported Turkey's state-run Anadolu News Agency.

"The latest example is the NOTAM promulgated by Greece by which she declared 15 military exercise areas, including the islands under demilitarised status, that blocks Aegean all along and a very large portion of the Eastern Mediterranean starting from January 4 until February 26, 2021," Aksoy said.

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis had withdrawn in October his demand for sanctions against Turkey for planning to drill for oil and gas off the Greek island of Kastellorizo but called for them in a Dec. 10-11 European Union meeting.

But the EU backed down and said no talk of penalties against Turkey would be taken up until March, 2021, reluctant to confront Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

He threatened to unleash on the bloc, through Greece and its islands, more refugees and migrants who had gone to Turkey fleeing war and strife and economic hardships in their homelands, especially Syria and Afghanistan.

Planned talks between Greece and Turkey broke off after Greece made a maritime deal with Egypt to counter an agreement Turkey made with Libya, dividing the seas between them, unrecognized by any other country.

But Aksoy said Turkey is open to talking again after Erdogan said he would send ships back off Kastellorizo and also off Crete, snubbing his nose at the EU and Greece and saying he wouldn't be deterred by sanctions.

"We call on Greece to act in common sense and responsible manner by contributing to our efforts to strengthen peace and stability in the region within the framework of good neighbourly relations," Aksoy also said.