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Turkey's Ambassador Says Drilling Will Start in Greek Seas

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Turkey’s Ambassador to Greece Burak Ozugergin. (Photo by Eurokinissi/ Yiannis Panagopoulos)

ATHENS - As Greece frets how to stop it, Turkey will go ahead and drill for energy in Greece’s Continental shelf off Greek islands, Turkey’s Ambassador to Greece Burak Ozugergin said.

He told the newspaper Kathimerini that the exploratory drilling is on for oil and gas, which Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said would include off Crete - where the US Navy has a base on Souda Bay - but that Turkey is willing to negotiate.

He followed the lead of Greece’s Environment and Energy Minister Kostis Hatzidakis who signaled an apparent willingness to revise the sovereign seas boundaries and Continental Shelf and the Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs) for the two countries.

That was the word from after Turkey disputed areas around Greek islands near Turkey’s coast and in the East Mediterranean and Aegean Sea and made a maritime deal with Libya dividing the seas between them, unrecognized by any other country.

Ozugergin said Turkey is open to discussions on maritime borders with Greece, stressing that a delimitation would have to be “just, equitable and peaceful,” although Erdogan said he covets the return of Greek islands ceded away in the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne he won’t recognize either.

Asked whether permits will be issued to the Turkish Petroleum Corporation for research in areas outlined in the country’s agreement with the Tripoli-based Libyan government, Ozugergin said they would.

“We say what we do, and we do what we say,” he said, adding that, “our messages at every level are always open and straightforward.” It wasn’t reported why he wasn’t summoned to explain an openly belligerent stance toward Greece’s sovereignty.

Referring to Cyprus, where Turkey has been drilling for energy in the island’s EEZ as it has occupied the northern third since an unlawful 1974 invasion, he warned the island’s legitimate government - a member of the European Union that Turkey has been trying to join since 2005 - not to attempt “unilateral line-drawing attempts in the Eastern Mediterranean.”

He said that violates the rights of both Turkey and the Turkish-Cypriots as Turkey disputes parts of Cyprus’ EEZ as well, including areas near where foreign companies, including the United States’ oil giant ExxonMobil, are licensed to drill.

“No country can just sit quietly when others are weaving cobwebs which so obviously affect its rights and interests,” he said, indicating a rigid stance at the same time he said Turkey is willing to talk about it.

He insisted that Turkey’s positions on maritime jurisdiction matters “always take into account basic principles of the Law of the Sea,” the United Nations dictates that Turkey also doesn’t recognize unless invoking it in its favor.

“It is true that being a large country does not absolve you from your obligations in the context of international law,” he said, indicating that referred only to Greece but not to Turkey which Greece says refuses to obey international laws.

"International law is for all countries, large or small, but international law in its entirety and in context – taking into account all relevant factors, not only those things that a first-year law student would know. That is why people spend years in law schools and that is why you never stop learning in the practice of law," the ambassador added without adding whether he knew Turkey was violating the law.